Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3, NIV)
These are familiar verses to me — and maybe to you as well — but it is easy to skim over them. They can be hard to digest if we read them in the middle of a trial (also translated temptation, test, trouble, difficulty, challenge, and hardship). Joy often seems impossible at those times. But if we read them when life is pleasant, we are tempted to dismiss them as idealistic thinking. But I recently realized how powerful and life-changing this instruction can be if applied literally.
The testing of your faith produces perseverance. In the past, I have thought of perseverance as grinding through a hard time, not giving up, not turning away, digging in our heels. But that response to a test of faith leaves out God and increases our reliance on ourselves and our abilities. That is not what God intends! And that is definitely not far more life.
Looking into the original Greek, the word translated as perseverance (or endurance in some Bible versions) is hypomonḗ, which means “to remain under” or “be unswerving in deliberate purpose and loyalty to God”. God wants us to remain under Him, unswerving and loyal, through our trials. That is actually the best place we can be during hardship: under the care, power, and purpose of our loving Father. That is where we find far more life.
We are tempted to think difficulties mean God is displeased with us and good circumstances indicate His approval. If this is our view, it is impossible for us to remain under Him when trouble arises. Fear tempts us to hide from Him. But God has a glorious plan for the faith-stretching struggles He allows in our lives.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4, NIV)
…Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7, NIV)
We want to experience good circumstances for remaining under Him; while God sometimes blesses us in that way, we can always count on Him to increase our faith and grow our character. What does that mean? Is it worth the pain we suffer?
Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything. Paul describes the same idea three ways to make sure we catch it. We will become like Christ, perfect in character, with perfect beliefs, thoughts, actions, and understanding. Every trial has the potential to make us more like Him if we allow it. Trials offer us far more life.
Keeping this big picture perspective enables us to obey the beginning of the passage: consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. Knowing we can use each trial to make us more Christ-like is a reason to face it with joy. I have a friend who embraces this. He consistently responds to trials with the exclamation, “Oh, good. God has allowed a trial!” His response is authentic and automatic; he relishes the chance to see God work in and through his life. My friend has faced some very difficult trials yet remained under God; and God has faithfully shaped his character to be more like Jesus.
How do we face trials with joy?
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, NIV)
If you do not know, ask God! He will not criticize, berate, or belittle you. He will generously and graciously provide the wisdom you need to walk in far more life. But Paul does share this caution:
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NIV)
You must ask God for wisdom with genuine faith. This is not the time for testing: “God, if you are real, give me wisdom.” It is not the time for bargaining, “God, if you give me wisdom now, I promise to never doubt you again.” It is good to admit that we lack faith; that is the first step in growing it! Use your doubt to uncover your core beliefs about God by asking yourself how you feel about trusting God and why you feel that way. As you alternate between these questions, digging deeper into your beliefs, you will encounter a core belief about God’s or your identity that does not line up with His Word. Turning to His Word for truth replaces that false belief, removes doubt, and allows genuine faith to flourish. And far more life!
I think this translation makes this passage relatable:
Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4, VOICE)
Do not run away from hardship. Instead run to far more life as you remain under God in your difficulties this week.
What is your first thought or feeling when a test, hardship, trial, or difficulty arises?
Can you think of a time when you relied on God through a trial and your faith in Him grew? Can you also think of times where you relied on yourself instead? What impact did those have on your faith?
How has your character grown more Christ-like through hardship?
Where do you turn for wisdom? What barriers keep you from turning wholeheartedly to God?
Thank God for His faithfulness and commitment to keep growing you. And for revealing far more life to you each step of the way.