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Book of James: Week 1




Topic:  Trials and Testing

Scripture: James 1:1-8

Things to think about: When we have troubles, the key is to change our perspective.  This perspective change can lead to maturing in Christ or, as we say, sanctification.

 

We are starting the book of James, a powerful 'how-to letter' to Christians that holds the key to transforming our lives. As followers of Christ, we encounter a multitude of life struggles, from trials and tribulations to moments of doubt and disagreement. Yet, the book of James encourages us to view these tests as opportunities for joy. It guides us through the complexities of faith, the absence of faith, and the actions we should undertake as we strive to emulate Christ.

 

We start this letter with a greeting from James to a group of believing Jewish Christians, and the intent is to understand how they and we face trials and keep faith. Let’s reread this passage,

“From James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the twelve tribes who are scattered outside the land of Israel. Greetings! 2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 6 Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. 7 People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. 8 They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.”[1]


I don’t know about you, but many of my days seem to be full of tests and trials.  If it is not one thing between outward relationships, figuring out how to be a single dad, a pastor, and many other things, it is one thing after another.  It will truly put a test or strain on your faith.  Look, I want to be very transparent. We all go through things in our lives, from kids, grandkids, relationships, marriages, divorce, finances, sickness, mental and emotional trauma, and the list can go on and on. Then James writes this letter to those that believe that we should, here is what he says, “think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”  For me, when I first read this, I did the typical teenager “eye-roll” like, where am I going to find joy in all this?


What James is trying to remind us is that, as Christians, we should remember that trials and tribulations are expected in this life. It is not a dart-throwing contest, and you might get hit, and someone else totally gets missed.  Because how James states it is more of a “when” versus an “if” kind of statement.  The joy comes with how we handle these types of situations.  We can be bitter, hurtful, angry, vengeful, or we can be people of peace, and in the midst of physical pain, loss of a job, or loss of a relationship, we can find true joy.  Remember, Jesus states in Matthew 5:9, “Happy are people who make peace because they will be called God’s children.”

 

Howard Thurman talks of this joy we can have in Mediations of the Heart when he talks about “I Will Sing a New Song.”  Thurman says,


I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind and spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody—how I shrink from the harsh discord of the new untried harmonies. Teach me. My Father, that I might learn with the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried morrow. Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding. I will sing, this day, a new song unto Thee, O God.”[2]

 

This joy can be had and how we handle trials is where the joy is found.  Just because we have Christ in our lives doesn’t mean that we can somehow circumnavigate trials in our lives.  However, what James is trying to help the believer to understand is that these trials and how we handle trials lead to the ability to be an immovable force in this world.  God wants us to have this strength that can only be found in God that helps us go through trials.  Even the 2nd letter to the church at Corinth helps with this reality.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this, “So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.” 


Like James is encouraging the believer to do is focus on the joy of knowing that we can withstand things that come against us, not that they go away, but that we can withstand them and consider it all joy. This truly becomes a testimony of our faith when we can endure through something in our life.  It is showing others that our faith in Christ is bigger than our affliction. My mother passed away in 2011.  She had cancer and she knew that her life was coming to an end.  I wanted her healed and so did the rest of the family but in the end she knew her life was short.  One of the biggest things I experienced with her was her faith in the end and the joy she had praying for others instead of us praying for her.  The UMC pastor that came to see her almost every day was prayed for by my mother rather than him praying for her. How we walk through our own “hells” in life shows to others just how big our God truly is.

 

I understand that it is hard to understand some of the situations we go through.  James says that we don’t understand, ask.  Verse five and six says this, “But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 6 Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting.”  God is not up there going well I am sorry about that, good luck, my bad, no we have a loving, caring, understanding God that wants to journey through it with us.  Again, it may not go away, but allowing God to journey with us and how we handle situations can truly bring a joy that is beyond all measure.


How are you handling your life situations?  What kind of things are you faced with right now that you need answers to?  Can I encourage you?  Allow God to walk with you through this, ask God for wisdom and clarity as you journey down this road no matter what it is, and lastly let the joy that rises in you become a testimony to all those around of just who Christ is in you. Amen!


[1]                Common English Bible

[2]        Thurman, Howard. Meditations of the Heart. Beacon Press, 1981, 207.



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