Though we all desire to grow, we are not always thrilled at the process of growth, right? Understanding the outcome of trials and testing can help us appreciate and find joy in the process.
Isn’t it funny how kids naturally just want to grow up? When they are small, they act like their moms and dads. They pretend to cook, clean, go to work. They might even tell you what chores YOU need to do!
OF course, as they get older and start to understand what it means to be a grown-up, we parents can get a little push back, right? In the end, though, it is our desire that our children will grow up and be mature responsible adults.
SIDE NOTE: “adulting” is not a word. People use that word to describe being a adult as something you eventually achieve. Well, you are an adult by law at age 16, and part of being an adult is navigating the uncertainty and responsibilities of life, right? On the flip side, I suppose if we can be “just kidding” about something we can also be “adulting” about other things ?
Nowadays we talk about kids growing up, and teens adulting. I am not sure what adults do other than age like a fine wine or cheese? But we all grow and mature in some way.
Similarly, in our work, we often try to move “up” the ladder. We want to go from the bottom of the food chain to the top. From entry level to senior level. We invest and progress in our work and education so we can become more of an expert in an area and more complete in our understanding.
There is, inherent in each of us, a desire to grow.
I would venture to say that though we all desire to grow, we are not always thrilled at the process of growth, right? Sometimes it is exhausting. Other times it can be downright painful. But you know what they say, “no pain, no ____________” (advil)
James is a book about growing up. It is about being mature in our faith. So, let’s just dive in and see what we can learn today.
James 1:2–8 || 2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. [NLT]
Just like it is natural for us to grow physically, and natural for us to want to learn and grow in knowledge, it SHOULD be natural for us to grow in our faith. And sometimes that can be painful. The process can be very challenging and difficult.
We are a very affluent and spoiled society. We have so many things and we lack for very little. Even if we are poor, we have clean water. We have healthcare. Most Americans can afford to have a car, and most can pick something nice and in the color they want. We are very blessed.
My concern is that as we have become accustomed to having such a nice life, we have also adopted the mindset that we deserve this kind of life and that anything that prevents or makes it difficult for us to experience this “happy” life is a bother or even worse – evil. We can easily complain about our problems because they keeps is from being happy.
James has a different perspective. He does not want us to merely be happy, he wants us to have JOY. And in this passage, he tells us how to have joy. However, it will require that we think in a very un-American way.
James talks about TRIALS. Trials are interruptions, challenges, roadblocks, difficulties. And the first thing we should notice is that they cannot be avoided.
It does not say IF you encounter trials. It says, “when”. We should anticipate that we WILL. James is not writing to God’s sheltered people but God’s scattered people (as Warren Wiersbe puts it). We WILL face trials and tests.
How many of us like tests? Depends on what kind of tests, right? Like a blind taste test of my favorite pizzas would be a good test! Well, we will all be tested. But there are a few things we should note about the character of the tests James talks about:
Test of what? Our faith! Why is that so significant that we have testing of our FAITH?
Hebrews 11:1–2 || 1 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [NLT]
It is only through faith, that is living our the reality of what we believe and trusting God even if we do not fully understand.
Hebrews 11:6 || 6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. [NLT]
We cannot please God without faith.
That means that when God tests our faith, it is so that we can please Him, so He can reward us, so we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. That is not to say that we will have all of the stuff we want, nor that we will have the lifestyle of luxury. To have a lack of nothing means to have what really matters – a close relationship with our Father.
If the characteristic of these tests is that they are test of faith, that means that you and I will face situations in our lives where we will NOT have all the answers nor feel like we can conquer the task. It will require that we seek God and trust Him.
For us to see trials in the proper light, we need to NOT focus on the physical, but instead focus on the spiritual. It is not about stuff, it’s about God.
The source of the tests is God. Since it is faith in HIM that is being tested, we can know that any test that provides an opportunity for our faith to grow will come from God. I know this seems obvious, but I think that sometimes we forget.
James is very clear that TEMPTATION does not come from God (1:13-15). Testing, which could be considered a good gift, comes from God (1:17)
These tests produce endurance, which brings us to the next characteristic of these tests – they may last a long time. You do not generally need endurance to get up from the couch to go to the fridge. You need endurance for a marathon, a long challenge that will exhaust your resources. The testing of our faith can certainly exhaust our resources!
We need to embrace the test God puts on us and let it work out, not fight it. So often we take the challenges from God kicking and screaming. IF we believe that God tests us, and those tests are for our good and His glory, and we KNOW we will have them, WHY DO WE RESIST?
For us to grow and mature in our trials we need wisdom to be able to discern what God wants to teach us, what He wants us to learn about Him and what He wants us to become and do.
That takes wisdom. Ask for wisdom.
NOTICE: James does not say to ask for the removal of the test. Though testing can be painful, testing is never bad. Rather than reject the test we need to look for what God wants us to learn through the test.
Proverbs 2:6 || 6 For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. [NLT]
Ask for God to teach you through the test. James says THAT is a prayer God will NOT refuse nor will he be upset over! We should change our prayer from “why me God” to “what do you want me to do/be/learn God?”
Think about this: if God is testing me, and I accept the test and believe the goodness of God, then doesn’t it make sense that when I ask God to teach me through the test, to give me wisdom to learn about Him and to honor Him through the test HE SENT, that He will grant it? Of course!!!!!!
THAT is why you can ask in FAITH and not doubt.
We ask God for so many things: health, jobs, cars, etc. These verses about asking in faith are not saying that we can just make God out to be like Genie with unlimited wishes. When we understand God, we will ask God for the things that please God.
God will give us wisdom in our trials because he sent the trials to mature us. Ask Him to help you:
God tests our faith to increase our love for him, obedience to him, and reliance on him.
If we understand that the tests will allow us to please God, and that the tests are God’s way of revealing HIS sufficiency for our lives and teaching us to trust Him. And, if we understand that in all of this, God’s goal is really for our greatest good, because He is all that truly satisfies.
THEN, if we truly understand and believe those things, how could be NOT have JOY when we have tests that challenge our faith?
That is where James starts us off. Consider it joy WHEN you face trials BECAUSE God will use those to grow you and complete you if you ASK Him for wisdom to learn the lessons God has for you. Joy comes from knowing, trusting and obeying God.
We can only have an attitude of joy when we choose to live with the end goal in mind.
Outcomes vs processes. We WANT to be mature in our faith! We want to be strong, unmovable in our beliefs about God. We ALSO want to live lives that please God, full of activity that bring glory to Him. The end goal is to KNOW God and to make him known. To be “perfect” and “complete” – mature faith and godly living.
The PROCESS to get there is testing.
I am convinced that there is a huge assumption made in verse 3 that we need to address. James says, “3 For you know”.
I am not sure that we, as non-persecuted believers in American churches, truly understand this passage nor to logic behind it. Remember, James is writing to Jewish believers – they had a different background and history than you and me.
God has tested his people from the very beginning. With Adam and Eve in the garden, to Abraham and Isaac. God testing Israel after saving them from bondage:
Exodus 15:25 || 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink. It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. [NLT]
The first test of water was with a stick, the second, Moses struck the rock. Next, God told him to speak to the rock. Do you see a maturing and an expectation of growth in faith? The first sees something tangible happen to the water. The second involves some activity on Moses’ part but displays God’s ability. The third was to be nothing but a display of God’s power (and Moses failed that one).
God tests, so he can mature. He tests so He can lead. All the tests in the wilderness were to teach the Israelites how to trust and obey God so that God could lead them on to the conquest of the promised land. They could NOT subdue until they submitted. They could not take possession until they learned to give up control.
We often want the result without the process.
The list could go on and on…
Be we cannot have stable faith, we cannot have God’s blessing, we cannot have true joy in our lives apart from the trials and testing of our faith.
We often focus on the outcomes and not the process. And when we experience the process we often complain because we do not stay focused on the big picture.
We can consider the trials of our lives a joy because we know that God allows them so we can grow up in our faith and relationship with Him. When we lean to give up our control and live in faith – trusting and obeying God and having that as our singular focus (not double-minded) then we can experience not only the joy of the Lord, but also his blessing:
James 1:12 || 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. [NLT]