Attitude During Trials
When I was eight my family vacationed through Arizona; I loved the golden rock formations and decided to take up rock collecting. By the time we got back home, I had a bag stuffed full of cactus and desert rock. My prize possession was a piece of “gold” bought at a freeway tourist shop for $1. When we got home, I carried the bag upstairs, dumped out my treasures, and began looking for the shining gold, but it was gone! Suddenly, I noticed bits of tiny gold glitter at the bottom of my bag, and then saw a black rock that looked like my piece of gold, a few leafs of glitter still clung to it’s side. Two weeks of bouncing around the cactus bag proved that I had, in fact, purchased “fool’s gold.”
Because there’s an ever-present danger of counterfeit faith, God’s word continually calls for professing believers to double check whether their faith is real gold or fool’s gold. David cried out “You have tried my heart; you have tested me and You find nothing!” (Ps 17:3) Haggai warned Israel, “Consider your ways!” (Hag 1:5) Paul warned the Galatians, “Each one must examine his own work!” (Gal 6:4) Paul told Titus, “Deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:11). But, more than any other NT writer, the biblical book of James urges people to look at their words and choices to determine the reality of their faith. Do you possess faith that’s gold or fool’s gold?
James 1:2 begins “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” James starts by demanding everyone take personal inventory on how they respond to tough times. Let’s examine his statement in logical order.
“When you encounter” is the Greek Peripipto meaning to “fall into” or “light upon” and refers to something coming down around us that we haven’t caused. “Various trials” represent the multi-faceted and unknown calamities of life… Jesus described the moment one of these trials “fell down on” a man…
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him…”
Straight away we learn something about these trials. First, they aren’t small irritations like getting a cold or a fender bender. Second, they are external calamities and not simply consequences for our own indiscretions. We must remember that getting an STD, getting thrown in prison, or running out of money aren’t biblical “trials” they’re outright consequences. Biblical “trials” are truly external pressures that come down on us.
Last week we were hiking along the beach and my daughter Peyton was climbing an inlet; suddenly a rogue wave crashed over the rocks covering her with spray. I reached around the corner and she was bravely holding onto the rock face soaked to the bone. That’s the imagery James gives of “trials” – the wave of cancer, job loss, persecution, natural disasters, or prodigal children hitting us by surprise…
James goes on, “Consider it pure joy…” This is an imperative leadership term (choose!) meaning that a Christian will do something counterintuitive to everyone else when one of these “trials” hits… he or she will choose to view it as “all joy.” Isn’t that remarkable? James commands that these 1st century dispersed Jewish believers, pressed on by culture and religious opposition, struggling with poverty, and working out the infancy of their faith, CHOOSE to accept the external pressures as all joy. In essence, “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it!” James is telling people to do precisely what his older brother Jesus had done…
Hebrews 12:1 tell us, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…”
Phillip Keller once wrote along these lines, describing the valley of the shadow…
“In the Christian life we want to ‘move onto higher ground with God’ and speak often of mountaintop experiences. But we have an erroneous idea of how this takes place, assuming we’ll be ‘airlifted.’ But every sheepmen familiar with the high country knows this is not the case because every mountain has its valley and the best route to the top is always along these valleys. We must remember David warned, ‘I walk through the valley of death…’ He doesn’t say that we stay there, or die there, but says we must walk there.”
Purpose of Trials
James goes on to explain the purpose of trials in verse 3, “Knowing that the testing of your faith…” That’s what external pressure is friends! “The testing of faith.” Since the time of Martin Luther, James has been knocked for writing a book absent of “faith” yet right here in verse three, faith stands as the central tenant for all subsequent suffering! Trial is the furnace that proves faith as gold! And what comes out of this testing? “the testing of your faith produces endurance…” Endurance in the Greek hypomone literally meaning the ability to stay in, sit under, and endure. Isaiah 40 famously says…
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”
Now, what part of this famous verse do we put on posters and screen savers? “Rise up on wings like eagles!” What part do we ignore? “Wait on the Lord.” The Hebrew word wait kaw-vaw means to twist or wind up until released. It’s interesting that everyone likes the part about wings but few remember the part about waiting all twisted up. Isaiah says if you want to be an eagle, first you must endure! What does endurance produce?
- Produces Enduring Faith
2 Chronicles 32 says God actually left Hezekiah alone for a time simply to test him. The reality is that a perfect life doesn’t teach you anything whereas trials train you! If your faith collapses before the cruel waves of sorrow, pain, and disappointment, it wasn’t strong faith! When you get nailed by a trial, you can look in the mirror and determine how strong your faith is – if you’re more loving, trusting, and honest, then you possess true faith. Conversely, if you’re more frustrated, selfish, and antagonistic, after trial you have false faith.
- Produces Enduring Humility
2 Corinthians 12:7 says Paul had a thorn in the flesh God simply wouldn’t take away and Paul said “In my weakness God is strong.” The greater your blessings, the more tempted you’ll be to believe your press, but the Lord is kind to knock His children down a notch.
- Produces Enduring Perspective
Listen to the J.B. Phillips translation of Philippians 1:23-25 “For living to me means simply ‘Christ’, and if I die I should merely gain more of him. I realize, of course, that the work which I have started may make it necessary for me to go on living in this world, I should find it very hard to make a choice. I am torn in two directions—on the one hand I long to leave this world and live with Christ, and that is obviously the best thing for me. Yet, on the other hand, it is probably more necessary for you that I should stay here on earth…” Friends, difficulty in this world naturally makes us yearn for the next one!
We see this type of paradigmatic shift all the time when a young couple ogles one another while dating, making life long promises based on emotions and infatuated opinions. Then they get married, and by day three of the honeymoon are at one another’s throat and on the phone to mother! It’s only after years of arguments, forgiveness, and recommitments, that they truly have perspective on marriage. In the same way, wrinkles, pain, and heartache breed perspective on the hope of heaven!
- Produces Enduring Ministry
In Luke 22 Jesus predicts Peter’s failure but immediately says, “When you bounce back, go encourage the brothers.” When things are easy we live by sense and not faith but a soldier is never known in peacetime and the Lord wants you trained for battle. Part of this training comes from hardship, and it makes you a better minister of the gospel.
It’s remarkable how closely the Bible and our own U.S. military describe the need for training. The Navy Seals website describes training this way: “Hell week consists of 5.5 days of cold, wet, brutally difficult operational training on less than four hours sleep. On average only 25% of candidates make it through due to the test of physical endurance, mental toughness, pain tolerance, teamwork, and ability to perform under high stress and sleep deprivation. But, it is often the greatest achievement of their lives, and with it comes the realization they can do 20X more than they ever thought possible. It defines them, they know they will never quit or let a teammate down.” Just like in the secular military, a soldier of Christ is trained in times of testing.
Outcome of Trials
James concludes this pericope, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…” James uses a Hebraic tradition of ethical character along with the prefix “holos” to paint the picture of a mature life examined from 360 degrees (under microscope) and still shining like Christ.
In essence he says that when you examine a person whose been vetted through trial you can meet them at church, at work, with their friends, family, or alone in a dark room, viewing them from every angle (private and public) and they’re Godly in every situation!
Your faith will be put through fire to prove it as true or fool’s gold.
Amy Carmichael grew up a very sickly young girl in Millisle Ireland but heard Hudson Taylor speak at a local convention and felt God’s call to be a missionary. In India, she began rescuing children from Hindu temple prostitution and loved them even when her own life was threatened time and again. Amidst the squalor of the inner city, personal nerve pain, abandonment by fellow missionaries, and opposition from Hindi tribes, she sat down and wrote these powerful words…
“As the Master shall the servant be,
and pierced are the feet that follow Me,
but yours look whole so haven’t followed far,
you’ve yet no wounds and too few scars.”