Recently, I have begun to study the Book of James anew and I am seeing some new things and being reminded of many lessons already learned; some of them forgotten or lost in the busyness of everyday life. The Word of God is so full of wisdom and practical advice that I find it hard to understand those who say that believing in God and Jesus is a crutch for the weak! Anyone who seriously considers what is found in the Word will find out very quickly that it can be simple enough for a small child and complex enough for the most intelligent. Serious students or scholars of the Word continue to find useful and new nuggets even after a lifetime of study.
James open up his letter with a friendly greeting but wastes no time getting to the meat of what he has to say to the scattered Christian Jews and to us today. He is addressing a people who have faced persecution and have scattered in many different directions, so it is not surprising that he begins by talking about trials. They were experiencing all kinds of trials- from loss of possessions, prison, to loss of life. He is clear in his words: he says when trials come not if! He continues to say “consider it joy” when trials come. Before you say, “REALLY?” remember this was written as a letter and was read aloud to the recipients and circulated among the dispersed believers, it didn’t have the verse divisions we see today. It will help to read it as a continual thought rather than separate verses. Then we can see that he is encouraging us to actually look beyond the trial and know that it is an opportunity to believe God and trust Him resulting in an increase of faith leading to maturity and completeness. In the Message translation it is put this way:
“2 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.3 You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. 4 So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
It is true that when we are pressed and under pressure, if we aren’t careful, we will act instinctively without giving much thought to what we are doing or saying. James is telling us to “consider” – pause and take some time before we panic or react in a way we may well regret. Take a moment to remember that what we are dealing with, though it is a surprise to us, does not surprise God or catch Him off guard. God is for us and not against us, so if this is really happening to me, there must be a higher purpose, something at stake or Glory to be won or lost based on how I handle myself in this situation. Admittedly, this is not an easy or instinctive reaction to the pressures and troubles that come against us, but James is calling us to look at a larger picture. He goes on to tell us if we find ourselves needing wisdom in handling these troubles to ask God. He will give us freely and extravagantly the wisdom we need if we depend faithfully on Him! He warns us not to doubt, but have faith, Believe!
Please do not think I say any of this lightly, if I come across “preachy”, I am speaking to myself more than anyone. I need to ask for wisdom more times than I can count, and neglect to ask more times than I’d like to admit or acknowledge!! I love that James uses the word consider because it requires a portion of time to take something into consideration, to ponder over it and not make a snap decision or reaction. It takes a little patience and self-control not to react immediately or go into panic mode instantly when thing are getting turbulent and are not going our way. Patience, self-control, taking time to ask for wisdom and wait for the answer all challenge our faith. Let’s draw a parallel to physical strength training here. If you have an injury to a muscle, as you rest it and it heals, you lose some strength in that area. In the meantime, other muscles compensate for the injured muscle and are challenged to work harder. As the injured muscle gets well, in order to rebuild lost strength, you must challenge the muscle or work it. The more you work it the stronger it gets. This is also true for our faith. The more it is challenged and we respond appropriately, the more it grows! So, even when we are waiting for the wisdom and believing God for the answers, we are exercising our faith and faith exercised will grow!
There have been many times that I choose to react rather than consider and ended up right back where I started, but I have found beyond a shadow of a doubt, when I take time to consider, ask and wait I always land in a better place. After the passage of time, I usually can look back objectively and see that God was working out something in me that was for the best and can be joyful for the journey that brought me to that place. I don’t really believe James want us to jump up and down and shout “hip-hip-hooray” when troubles come but to take the time to consider it, ask God for wisdom, follow what He says and joyfully know that though it may be difficult and we may suffer, in the end it will cause us to have more faith, be more mature and complete in Him and bring Glory to His name. We live in a fallen world rather than a perfect world and there are always going to be troubles, it is our choice what we will do with them and how they will influence and shape our character. May we always choose wisely, seeking wisdom from above!