It’s often said, “You’ve either been through a trial, are going through a trial, or are headed for a trial.”
I’m not sure who first said it, but life sure has a way of validating the statement, doesn’t it?
Add to that a thousand physical, emotional, and spiritual battles along the way, and we realize that to live is to face trials. Pandemic or not.
Doesn’t it make you long for a time when you can retire on a beach and cast your trials into the ocean? But by that time, I suspect we’ll be carrying the trials and concerns of a lifetime of people we’ve met or produced.
So when I bump into a passage of scripture like James 1:2-12, I feel offended. Maybe even defeated.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
Why? How? And what if I don’t want to?
It got me thinking about God’s purposes in trials.
Why does he allow them, and why do they seem so constant? And why on earth am I supposed to consider it joy?
I kept reading in James and found a few answers and two liberating truths.
1. God’s purpose for trials in a believer’s life is to grow something in you that you can’t produce by yourself.
When we face trials, we can be certain that God is producing spiritual perseverance in us. When we endure, God produces maturity. Think of it as increased lung capacity for a long walk of obedience.
A mature person is wise, but trials have a way of making you feel like a big dumb-dumb. If you go into a trial thinking, “Oh well, I know exactly what to do in this situation,” then you’re not really experiencing it as a trial. It’s just a task.
But if you don’t know what to do in your trial, James (Jesus’ younger half-brother!) points you straight: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
God gives wisdom. He gives it generously, and he gives it to everyone without criticizing or finding fault. I love the J.B. Philips paraphrase that says, “If any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem, he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all without making them feel foolish or guilty.”
Do you feel foolish or guilty asking God to grant wisdom in your trial? Do you hear some jerk in your head mocking, “Good grief, you ought to have this figured out by now!”
Rest assured, those accusations are not from your Father.
But when we ask God for wisdom, there is one condition James warns us about. “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt,” which is to say, we must ask God in faith.
What does it mean to “ask God in faith?” Should I shut my eyes and concentrate on what I want to happen? Should I wish on a star then crack one eye open to see if God’s doing what I wished?
That strategy is brought to you via Disney movies. Believers have something better. We ask the creator of the stars. But when we ask, we must believe that the wisdom he gives is true and worth heeding.
Sometimes we ask God what we should do, and then we wait around to evaluate his response to see if it’s something we prefer and approve.
That’s the opposite of asking in faith.
And if that’s the route I take, I had better buckle up for a dizzying ride that’s likely to cause spiritual motion sickness.
“The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-7).
Instead of being led by wisdom, I’ll lose my footing in my trial. I’ll be tossed wherever the unpredictable winds of doubt and feeling and circumstance drive me.
Picture an inflated pink innertube sunning itself on the beach like a misplaced donut. Suddenly, a gust of wind flips it into the air. It rolls and bounces down the beach, splashing into the water. Whitecaps slap it around, and that pink floaty hurtles toward the middle of the lake. It is tossed by the wind with nothing to anchor it down.
When we ask God for wisdom but hesitate to heed it, we’ll find ourselves tossed like that pink innertube. We know we ought to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), but when we waver about God’s wisdom, the only thing left to lean on is our own understanding.
And that’s a little ironic because we didn’t understand what to do in the first place. It’s the very definition of unstable doublemindedness (James 1:8). Sometimes we don’t realize we’re doubleminded until we’re neck-deep in water with sand washing out from under our feet.
So God allows a trial to show us what we’re ultimately depending on. He desires to be your dependable anchor when circumstances toss you around.
2. God’s purpose for trials in a believer’s life is to demonstrate the authenticity of your faith and reward it.
I used to wonder if God was dishing out hard stuff, watching for me to face plant, and waiting to see if I’d act happy about it. But the bookends of this passage (verses 2 and 12) tell me a far different story.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
God uses the tool of trials to prove the authenticity of your faith to you.
As God provides wisdom and builds endurance in you, your faith is validated and demonstrated to you!
You don’t earn points with God for choosing an unnecessarily hard path. But when you remain dependent on Christ even when you don’t know what to do, we call it perseverance.
To persevere means that in trial after trial, you remained dependent on Jesus. You turned your face to him for wisdom. You thanked him that regardless of the outcome of the trial, you are secure in Christ because of the gospel.
God rewards believers who endure by depending on Him.
After we have stood the test, God rewards believers with the “crown of life.” It’s a picture of the blessing God gives as a prize to those who have remained dependent on Him.
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7-9, NLT)
God proves the authenticity of your faith to you by growing your perseverance, and then he rewards it.
Through trials, God proves himself trustworthy, he proves our faith genuine, and by means of both, our love for God grows. The crown of life is not a reward for those who deserve it. It’s given to those who love him (James 1:12).
In short, we mature. And that brings joy.
What is tossing you around?
What trial are you dreading?
Is it a treatment? A test result? A conversation with your boss, your coworker, your husband, or your child?
View it as the vehicle through which God will generously dump wisdom–biblical skill for the art of living–into your mind and heart.
What trial is so discouraging that it’s nearly suffocating you?
Lack of connection? Lack of sleep? Lack of spiritual health in yourself, your family, or your church? Is it the financial grenades that keep landing in your bank account? Is it the barrage of sadness, pain, and injustice our world is experiencing?
If you find yourself being smacked by whitecaps like a river floaty, you can turn your face to Jesus at any moment and anchor-down.
In the gospel, Jesus is like a strong dad who fires up the boat to chase a rogue innertube. He scoops it out of the water, straps it to the boat, and secures it. The wind blows, the innertube flutters under the strap, but it is secured.
When we are discouraged, doubting, or distrusting, our position in Christ is secured. The fact that you return to the good news of the gospel is outward evidence of your inward and authentic faith.
God gives wisdom. Through Christ’s redeeming work, he has secured you.
Consider it all joy.