THE VALUE OF LIFE’S TRIALS
A Meditation on James 1:1-8
What I wanted to talk about today is the value of life’s trials. Now before you all collectively roll your eyes and walk out I want to say that I am in no way attempting to trivialize the trails that you’ve faced in your past or are currently facing. What I hope to accomplish is to encourage you by what is written in James Chapter One versus one through eight.
Why did I decide that I wanted to talk about trials today?
Trials are something that we all have in common. In the past six months my wife has had two different surgeries which resulted in two different periods of missed work, recovery, and weight restrictions from lifting. Having a two year old son and a weight restriction don’t go together very well. She couldn’t pick him up nor could she wrestle him to try and dress him or change his diaper. Missed work also meant financial hardships. And most recently my son has experienced a mysterious medical situation that has resulted in two different emergency room visits, multiple tests, phone calls, and as of right now mostly unanswered questions. After my wife’s weight restriction from the second surgery was lifted I excitedly thought: Great! Things can finally get back to normal!” The issues my son is currently facing started shortly thereafter. Well, the reprieve was nice while it lasted… Now I don’t say these things so that you’ll feel bad for me. I say these things to illustrate a point: We all will inevitably face trials.
In verses 1 and 2 James says:
“1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,”
Notice he says “whenever you face trials” not “if you face trials”. As much as we would love for God to put a protective bubble around us it’s just not something that God does. Read the book of Job if you don’t believe me.
James’s letter is written to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. What he is referring to is believers you have become dispersed because they were facing persecution because of their faith. These believers had to leave their homes and jobs and flee with their families because of their faith. These people were definitely facing major trials in their lives. Trust me it wasn’t like the time when the cable went out and you had everyone over to watch the big game.
Looking again at verse 2, what type of attitude does James says we should have towards trials?
Verse 2 says “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,”
Pure Joy?! Pure joy is not what comes to mind when I think of obstacles and trials in my life. Usually I think about how quickly can I get it over with and how can I make sure it never happens again. We know that trials are an inevitable part of life but the real issue is: what is our attitude like during the trial? Are we speaking doom and gloom or are we speaking of the hopeful expectation that God will see us through all trials? Do we resent God for the trial in our life or do we still continue to seek him through reading the Bible, praying, and fellowshiping with other believers? After a particularly frustrating visit with a neurologist regarding my son where we expected the visit to result in some sort of answers but we didn’t get anything I was feeling pretty dejected and downtrodden. While driving into work the next day I prayed “God, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think. This is what’s going on” and I proceeded to list all the challenges going on in my life and ended with a simple “please help us”. Later that day a prayer was answered and a need was met. I worshiped God with my prayer by acknowledging that I needed his help. I worshiped God by seeking him and not hiding from him. I worshiped God by thanking him for answering a prayer and meeting a need.
It’s not easy to be joyful or worship during a trail but let’s look at versus 3 & 4 and see what James says.
“3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James is giving us a sequence of events here. First we have faith. (Our faith is that we believe in God and we believe that God is our father and that he loves us.) Then we are tested. (Somehow our faith is challenged.) The testing leads to perseverance (or as the ESV translation of the Bible puts is: steadfastness), which is the ability to stand firm and strong no matter what our circumstances. And then perseverance leads to maturity and completeness. As a Christian we want to be mature. We don’t want to feel strong in our faith on day and then doubting God’s existence the next. We want to be stable and mature. James view of trials is that they aren’t obstacles to spiritual growth, rather they help us grow spiritually.
Don’t assume that God threw a trial at you to grow you spiritually, but be confident that God will work all things for his perfect will and glory, and that when you face a trial you will grow spiritually because of it. And don’t go looking for a trial just because you feel that you are stagnating spiritually… Trust me, trials can find you well enough without you going to look for them.
As we read verses 5 through 8 ask yourself: what is the key ingredient that we need in our lives if we are to live by James’s formula for Christian maturity?
“5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all that he does.”
Wisdom! What is wisdom?
Wisdom is understanding. Wisdom is seeing things from God’s perspective. Wisdom is the knowledge and ability to make the right decisions as you navigate through a trial.
How should we obtain wisdom?
We should ask God for it. And as James says God will give us wisdom generously and without finding fault. If you ask God for wisdom he will give it to you.
It doesn’t matter that you have already asked a million other times.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve already asked, received, and then squandered gifts that God had previously given to you.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve failed to truly appreciate the gifts that God has given to you.
That’s the beauty of our relationship with God. Our past doesn’t matter. We are living in the present and if you ask God for wisdom he will give it to you.
Why do we need wisdom?
We need wisdom to see the bigger picture of God’s will.
We need wisdom to know how to behave when we do face a trial.
Don’t forget that God uses all things for good.
God doesn’t give to us because he is expecting something in return but because it is God’s nature to give us good gifts. God is utterly sincere and pure in his intention and he wants us to grow in our faith and is not going to withhold anything that we need for growth.
What type of attitude should we have when we ask God for wisdom?
We must sincerely expect a response from God.
In verses six through eight James says that when a man asks God for wisdom he must believe and not doubt. What he is saying is that we must be sincere towards God. How can we expect to receive anything from God if we doubt God’s compassion for us or his ability and willingness to bless us in times of need? Are we wholeheartedly focused on having a relationship with God or are we leaving the door open for worldly living? James calls a man who is unwilling to choose between God or the world a “double-minded man” and characterizes him as being a wave that is blown every which way by the wind.
Let me ask you a question: how would you characterize your relationship with God?
If you say that it’s an old car that you bought with the intention of restoring it but haven’t looked at in years, and now it sits out behind the garage rusting away then I want to encourage you to roll up your sleeves and get to work on it.
If you got your car stuck in a snowbank who do you want to show up: a person in a Ford Escort with only baling twine to pull you out? Or a person with a four wheel drive diesel pickup truck with a tow chain? You would want the person with the big truck and the tow chain because you know they will get you unstuck.
So in the same light, do you want to be confident that you have a strong relationship with God or do you want to repeatedly doubt your salvation or if God actually loves you? Folks, they say that showing up his half the battle, but that’s all it is, half of the battle. There is still the other half to fight. Showing up to church is good, but intentionally showing up to church with the desire to meet God is better. Owning a Bible is good, but intentionally reading your Bible with the desire to meet God is better. Make your relationship with God a priority and begin to intentionally seek out God.
We know that we are going to experience trials in our lives, but we can be confident in the truth that God is with us during the trial. As uncomfortable as the trial may seem God will use it for his glory by developing us into mature Christians. God gives us wisdom so that we can gain his perspective on our situation and wisdom on how to handle it. God is with us. Never leaving us. Never forsaking us. God wants us to be mature Christians, steady in our faith, and engaged in a vibrant and growing relationship with him.
To close, let’s hear the words Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 11:
“11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
This devotion is heavily influenced by notes graciously provided by Larry Nemitz and the Wesleyan Quarterly study by the same name. This devotion was created and read at a recent gathering.