Summary: How to experience joy in the midst of trials in our lives.
Have you ever asked someone how they are doing and had them answer something like this: “Well, under the circumstances, I’m doing pretty well.”? When I hear someone say something like that I’m reminded of something that I heard many years ago. This quote from Rick Warren really captures the essence of the words of James that we’ll be looking at this morning:
Circumstances are like a mattress: you get on top, you rest easy. You get underneath, you suffocate!
While I’m not sure we always “rest easy” as we encounter difficult circumstances in our lives, God certainly does not want us to suffocate under the trials of life.
We mentioned last week that the main purpose James wrote his letter was to help immature Christ followers mature in their walk with Jesus. And as we’ll see this morning, one of the marks of a mature Christ follower is that he or she is able to find joy in the midst of trials.
Go ahead and take your Bibles and turn to James chapter 1 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 2:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
(James 1:2-12 ESV)
Let’s begin with a couple of general observations about this passage and then we’ll get into some of the specifics of how to put it into practice in our lives.
1. Experiencing trials is the norm for every Christ follower
One of the first things we notice in verse 2 is the little four letter word “when”. It’s instructive that James chose to use that word rather than another one he could have chosen – “if”.
Many times our first reaction when we face trials in our lives is to ask, “Why me God?” But maybe what really ought to be asking is, “Why not me, God?”
In using the word “when” perhaps James was thinking of the many times that Jesus had warned His followers that they should expect to face trials and tribulations in this world. And James’ fellow disciple, Peter, certainly understood this principle when he wrote these words:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
(1 Peter 4:12 ESV)
As Christ followers, we shouldn’t be surprised when we face trials. They are a normal part of living life in the kingdom of God.
2. God uses trials to manifest the genuineness of our faith
We need to begin by looking at the word that both James and Peter use for “trials”
When we get to verse 13 next week, we’ll find that when James uses the same Greek word there, it is translated “temptation”. That is because the word in Greek has neither a negative nor positive connotation. So the context has to determine the proper translation.
In the passage we’re looking at this morning, the testing is being applied for the purpose of demonstrating the good in the object being tested. Peter comments further on this idea:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)
According to both James and Peter, the reason that God either allows or brings trials into our lives is so that we can demonstrate the genuineness of our faith.