“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”
We are conditioned into the avoidance of pain and suffering. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? You’d have to have a particular attraction to the perverse to seek out the thing that would make you suffer, after all. Surely it makes sense to move heaven and earth to prevent moments of crisis and difficulty from occurring in our lives?
But there’s more to it than simply attempting to limit our exposure to trials and tribulations in life. This conditioning informs us that success is equivalent to avoidance—that, in essence, we have failed if the moment of crisis is not avoided. And we are told that this failure is a moment of abandonment, the moment of loss. That moment of crisis, when we are already suffering, is recast as a moment of despair. You can see it in words like “catastrophe,” “fiasco,” “ruin,” “disaster,” and “calamity;” all words initially simply meaning reversal, loss, adversity, tumbling down, or bad fortune; now tarred with the melodramatic connotation of the end of the world. We place ourselves in extremis.
This is the equivalent of getting up and walking out at the moment the examination begins, of accepting the sentence at the moment the bogus charges are read to the court, of turning and walking away from a friendship the moment conflict arises. It’s not our avoidance of crisis that defines who we are as people and as people in Christ; it’s our handling of that crisis when it occurs. We do not deal in ideas of failure at the moment that testing begins. Our life in Christ is about meeting obstacles and overcoming them, turning experience into blessing, just as Jesus did, and just as the early Christians did, taking Jesus as their example.
The quote from the very beginning of the epistle of James is a key example of this in Christian history. Written at a time when the newly emerging Christian church was beginning to see the kind of persecution that they would be forced to deal with, as well as having to deal with the first tests of their faith as they struggled with the idea of allowing Gentiles to take a place among them, the book of James is devoted to exposing hypocritical practices and encouraging correct Christian behavior. It’s a kind of mission statement, exhorting the faithful to prove their faith through their actions, to demonstrate it in their everyday lives. It counsels patience in the face of trials & tribulations, citing the moment of trial as a moment of “joy,” in that it was an opportunity to put faith into practice and to demonstrate fortitude and strength in the face of crisis through reliance in faith and in God.
You’ve probably heard similar sentiments in quotes like “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” (Friedrich Nietzsche). Perhaps you’ve read Ernest Hemingway’s more lyrical attempt, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Both are attempts by strong-minded men to articulate what the writer of the book of James had already set out, long before—strong-minded men who believed that they could do it on their own, that their will could be sufficient. As Christians, we know that only in a manifestation of the Spirit within us can we truly prevail.
And God has set us up to succeed. The Father knows where every attack will come from, how every crisis will emerge, the location of every problem in the long road of our lives, and next to each trial He has placed a promise and a provision for our success. We do not deal in ideas of failure, because we’re afforded the gift of seeing every affliction as an opportunity. Every trial is our day in court, to prove what God already knows…that we can win, overcome the odds and in doing so, be set free.
So we should not necessarily pray for the removal of affliction, but rather the wisdom to make the right use of it. We should not cry out at the trial before us, but revel in the promise it reveals, because God’s faithfulness has delivered us a promise for every problem. And this demonstrates the remarkable gift that sets us apart from strong-minded men that would seek to simply weather the storm and rebuild, because we know the truth—that the very existence of a problem proves the existence of the promise that goes along with it. We delight in the storm! We take joy in the howling wind and the torrential rain, because we can hear behind it the voice of our Father, whispering just what He has planned for us.
James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Are you encountering a difficulty in your life, a moment of crisis that has you on your knees? Stand up and look about you. There’s a promise, and a provision for you, waiting to be discovered. Look eagerly, expectantly, because they’re there, and when you find them, you’ll find the Lord waiting there with them. You’ll recognize Him easily enough. He’ll be the One that’s smiling.