It may seem odd, but as I considered my devotional from yesterday, I realized that we often overlook this area when we consider all the things we are “thankful” for during this time of year. Sure, we consider all the blessings of God such as friends and family but how many of us put trials on the list? Not me! Yet we are reminded by James that we should rejoice in trials because they are often the means by which God can do his greatest work in our lives. I then read a devotional from another source this morning with the same point. Well…maybe God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I am to be reminded that we should not judge God’s blessing by our personal definition of what is good or makes my life easier or better. In fact, the things that I would naturally leave off the list (such as trials) may, in fact, be God’s greatest gift in my life. By these I am transformed by the renewing of my mind. By these I recognize my dependence on Him. By these my selfishness is broken so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Consider these things during this week of Thanksgiving.
According to James 1:2–4, 12, there are two reasons why Christians should rejoice when they face trials of various kinds. Other reasons are articulated elsewhere, but these two are remarkably comprehensive.
First, we should rejoice because we know that when our faith is tested, the result is perseverance (1:2–3). As an athlete endures in order to build up endurance, so a Christian perseveres under trial in order to build up perseverance. Perseverance contributes something important to our character. It “must finish its work so that [we] may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). The alternative is a personality that may love the Lord when things are going well, a character that is bold and happy on bright days in the Spring, but knows little of steadfastness under duress, of contentment when physical comforts are withdrawn, of quiet confidence in the living God when faced with persecution, of stability in the midst of a frenetic pace or a massive disappointment. In other words, in a fallen world perseverance contributes maturity and stability to our character—and trials build perseverance. So James is very bold: we should, he says, “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials of various kinds. This is not a perverse form of Christian masochism, but an entirely appropriate response if we remember the Christian’s goals. If our highest goals are creature comforts, this passage is incomprehensible; if our highest goals include growth in Christian character, James’s evaluation makes eminent sense.
Second, the Christian who perseveres under trial is blessed “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). In other words, perseverance is a necessary ingredient to genuine Christianity. A real Christian, on the long haul, sticks: he or she perseveres. There may be ups and downs, there may be special victories or temporary defeats, but precisely because the One who has begun a good work in us completes it (Phil. 1:6), real Christians stick (cf. Heb. 3:14). They continue to be “those who love him.” Thus Christians facing a trial must perceive not only the threat or the unpleasantness or the disappointment, but also the challenge for which God’s grace equips us: to press on—always to press on—knowing full well that the ultimate reward, meted out by grace, is “the crown of life”—the crown that is life, life in its consummated splendor, the life of the new heaven and the new earth, the heritage of all Christians. Thus, once again James is entirely realistic to perceive that the person who perseveres under trial is “blessed.” It is an easy calculation, provided we remember the Christian’s goals.
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world
Tribulation is God’s threshing—not to destroy us, but to get what is good, heavenly, and spiritual in us separated from what is wrong, earthly, and fleshly. Nothing less than blows of pain will do this. The evil clings so to the good, the golden wheat of goodness in us is so wrapped up in the strong chaff of the old life that only the heavy flail of suffering can produce the separation.
J. R. Miller
D. A. Carson, For the Love of God : A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Volume 1 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), November 19.
Samuel G. Hardman and Dwight Lyman Moody, Thoughts for the Quiet Hour, Originally Published: Chicago: Revell, c1990. (Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998, c1997, c1994, c1990), November 20.