Count It All Joy: Growing Enduring Faith in Trials
2020 proved unforgettably full of crisis with locust plagues in eastern Africa, hurricane-force winds in Iowa, an earthquake in North Carolina, raging wildfires out west, rioting in major cities, and a pandemic producing deaths, economic recession, masking, social distancing, and sheltering-in-place. What’s next? The frogs and lice can’t be far behind now.
The Scriptures specialize in crisis, most notably the most colossal crisis of all: mankind’s sin problem. The gospel speaks not only to our greatest need but also to the lesser day-to-day problems we experience. God uses our trials as signposts pointing us to God and His all-sufficient grace. We learn through each trial how much we need God.
The Scriptures provide specifics about persevering through trials. Pastor James wrote to the persecuted Jewish believers, offering them real hope and truths that still resonate with us today. In James 1:2-12, James answers this important question: how do suffering believers persevere through trials? His answer: by trusting God’s plan, provision, and promise in testing.
First, James exhorts his readers to count a trial as pure joy, not because of the pain, but because of God’s plan in the test. The trial has a good result (vv. 2-4). Are you expecting James to start singing “Hakuna Matata” at any moment? He seems so out of touch in this exhortation. To the contrary, James knows how hard trials are since he experienced persecution in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 5:40-41). He learned that trials are often unexpected (“when ye fall into”) and diverse (“various”). But he also recognized what God is accomplishing through those trials. He’s accomplishing us!
In God’s plan, the testing of believers’ faith results first in strengthening our endurance. The “patience” here is an active perseverance, a fortitude. Testing is to our spiritual muscles what working out is to our physical muscles.
In verses 3-4, James tells us we can have confidence in the second result of testing: God’s perfecting of our faith. “Worketh” is present tense showing the continual process of our growth. This perfecting work means that we become increasingly mature as we develop faithful endurance. What an assurance! This plan should stimulate joy.
Second, James exhorts his readers to trust God’s provision for trials. We all know how hard it is to navigate through uncertain times, so James reminds believers to ask God for wisdom (vv. 5-8). The author cautions that we must ask in faith, without wavering. This wavering is not a wavering with whether God will provide such wisdom or not, but rather a wavering between God’s wisdom and my own (cf. 3:13-18). We should not think we will receive God’s wisdom if we’re vacillating between His wisdom and the world’s wisdom. James calls this individual a “two-souled” man. Such uncertainty creates instability like a ship that is tossed on a raging sea (v. 6). To the person who will single-mindedly follow God’s wisdom, God promises to give wisdom generously, without insulting the person for asking (v. 5).
Third, James reminds believers to trust God’s promise in future deliverance, giving a two-part assurance to persevering believers (vv. 9-11). First, through paradoxical statements, he shows believers that lowliness will lead to exaltation. Although the wealthy may oppress believers now (cf. 2:6-7; 5:1-6), they shall fade away and become low. This promise demonstrates the temporary nature of suffering that gives way to joyous restoration. Second, James calls those who suffer in lowliness “blessed” (v. 12). The blessing is found in our perseverance because enduring believers demonstrate a real faith and love that validates our position in Christ as authentic (v. 9). As a result, we receive a crown which is eternal life (v. 12). This statement is a promise of position in Christ that gives us standing before God.
Be encouraged that God is working in you through difficulties. If those frogs and lice should show up soon, take heart. Because of God’s plan, provision, and promise, we can persevere in faith through the worst of tests.
Bruce Meyer (DMin, Biblical Counseling) taught doctrine, theology, Bible, and biblical counseling in the college and seminary. This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 Maranatha Advantage.