Persevering in Faith

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.

Sisters,
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.
-Shari

Praise from the Darkness

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, my soul! I want to praise the Lord throughout my life. I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, GW)

The darker my surroundings, Lord, the greater my need to praise You. As the voices around me rise in anger and despair, I will raise my voice in praise to You. I am not unaware of the trouble around me or hiding from challenges. Rather my need for perspective and wisdom drives me to you, the One who sees and knows all.

Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground. On that day their plans come to an end. (Psalm 146:3-4, GW)

Father, it is tempting to trust humans to right the wrongs around me. Their claims and solutions sound right and reasonable. But they, like me, are mortals with limited power and resources. They cannot see the hearts of people to know what solution is truly best. They do not know the future and know only fragments of the past. You alone, Father, transcend all generations and fully understand human hearts and actions. You alone have provided the ultimate solution and will one day overcome all evil. It is better that I trust You, my only certain source of help and hope. Open my eyes to see what You see, discerning the real problem and revealing my role in overcoming evil.

Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God, who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them. The Lord remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:5-6, GW)

I am blessed…happy…joyful…when I place my hope in You, Lord, and accept Your help. Even if my circumstances do not change, You give me joy. You keep all Your promises; You never lie, make mistakes, or change your mind. You never misjudge the situation or underestimate the consequences; You know exactly what to do and when to do it. I can trust Your timing and rest in Your arms until You provide a way out. Grow my desire to help others find joy and blessing in You, too!

He brings about justice for those who are oppressed. He gives food to those who are hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. (Psalm 146:7, GW)

I confess, Father, that I sometimes grow impatient waiting for Your justice, provision, and freedom. My vision is limited to temporary timeframes and solutions because those are all I know. But when I look at eternity, You clearly rescue the oppressed and bring justice in Your perfect timing and way. You feed “soul” hunger, not just the physical hunger that is so often my focus. You offer freedom from more than physical prison; you set my heart and soul free to experience far more life as You intended! My attempts to bring justice, provision, and freedom are insignificant compared to yours. I desire these because I am made in Your image, but help me, Lord, to not see myself as more capable than I truly am. Help me recognize my responsibility and limits so I can join You in battling evil rather than fight against Your plan. Help me see the role You have assigned me; empower me to carry it out while giving me wisdom and strength to walk away from the roles You have not assigned me.

The Lord gives sight to blind people. The Lord straightens the backs of those who are bent over. The Lord loves righteous people. (Psalm 146:8, GW)

Thank you, God, that you can and will overcome the chaos of this world. Although I am governed by forces that tend toward disorder and destruction, You are not. Help me rest securely in Your love so I know, whatever my circumstances, that You are with me and for me. Remind me that whether or not I experience relief in this life, I will be fully restored — for all eternity — when Christ returns. All my suffering and struggles will become insignificant as I bask in Your glory. Help me walk in righteousness every moment, whether You call me to wait or to act.

The Lord protects foreigners. The Lord gives relief to orphans and widows. But he keeps wicked people from reaching their goal. (Psalm 146:9, GW)

In Your kingdom, I am a foreigner, but You welcome and protect me. I come to You alone, but You embrace me and meet my needs. Help me to treat others as you have treated me. I am thankful for Your guarantee that the wicked — who seem to prosper now — will one day be defeated. I am thankful that only Your goals have the power to last for eternity. I want to join you in pursuing Your goals!

The Lord rules as king forever. Zion, your God rules throughout every generation. Hallelujah! (Psalm 146:10, GW)

Earthly rulers will come and go, but You remain on Your throne through them all. You ruled at the creation of the world. You have ruled throughout all of human history. And You will continue to rule forever. I look to You for wisdom; help me recognize and support human wisdom that matches Yours. I look to You for guidance; help me follow Your path regardless of its popularity. I praise You for what You have done! I praise You for what You are doing! I praise You for what You will do! I follow You by faith and submit to Your leadership all the days of my life. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sisters,
Are current pressures and circumstances making it hard for you to praise God?
How are you tempted to trust people to solve the problems around you?
How has God helped you? How can you help others find His joy?
Are you pursuing God’s goals or someone else’s? How can you join God?
Praise God today for being who He is and giving you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: JenjoeMarsh