Up Without Giving Up
James tells us that difficulties are
stepping-stones to maturity and maturity is the path to happiness.
No, James didn't say it was always pleasant and he didn't say it comes
natural. Christian growth isn't as automatic or natural as physical growth.
Physical growth usually comes very natural as the body matures from an
infant to adulthood. However, mental maturity is not a natural process.
Mental development is full of frustrations and failures, which will result
in maturity or immaturity. Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, "My dear
children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is
formed in you . . ." (Galatians 4:19 NIV) Most of us have had the painful
experience of watching our children struggle to maturity
Maturity is a personal choice.
If we choose to mature our difficulties will become stepping-stones to
happiness. If we make a choice to remain immature, our difficulties will
bring destruction and we will not discover happiness.
James is urging us not to give up in our struggle
for maturity. Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly.
Just as there is pain in childbirth, travail always accompanies the process
There is a difference between age and
maturity. Not everyone who grows old grows up. There is a vast
difference between aging chronologically, psychologically and spiritually.
You may have been in the church 10 to 20 years, but this does not guarantee
maturity in the Lord.
We must measure our spiritual growth
by the Word of God and the Son of God. Although the word of God
is our means to maturity, gaining knowledge of God's word doesn't guarantee
spiritual maturity. We can gain knowledge of God's word without maturing
in Christ. The goal of God's word is that "we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to
the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13 NIV)
In the matter of Christian living losing
is not an option. We must not allow our trials on the outside (1:1-12)
to become temptations, which overwhelm us on the inside. (1:13-27)
If we are going to turn trials into triumphs
we must discover God's joy in the midst of our trials.
The Need of Wisdom
It takes wisdom from God to enable us to
consider our trials a joy. James is encouraging us to use our trials
as a means to a joyous victory. You have seen the bumper sticker that reads:
"When life hands you a lemon make lemonade!" It is easier to smile at it
than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact it is biblical.
James says the wise person considers their trials as a means to maturity.
Maturity allows us to see ourselves as victors rather than victims. Seeing
the end result of our difficulties from the beginning allows us to discover
joy when we are tested and tried.
We must ask God for wisdom to discover
the joy. Too often we are afraid to ask God because we allow our
troubles to drive us away from God. We may think we wouldn't have troubles,
if we were better Christians. We may think God is reluctant to hear our
prayers because of our troubles. James is trying to assure us of God's
liberal policies on giving wisdom. He constantly gives to all alike.
Wisdom allows us to see the opportunities
God is giving us to mature. Through Christian maturity we turn
our defeats into victories. The most encouraging part is that God is willing
to give you the wisdom you need in the midst of your difficulties. Wisdom
helps us understand how to use the circumstances for our good and God's
God's wisdom teaches us that we should
expect problems. Our concept of joy is a life without problems.
James doesn't say, "IF difficulties come . . ., " he says "WHEN difficulties
come . . ." James leaves no allusion. Difficulties will come. The believer
who expects Christian living to be easy is in for a real shock. Jesus said,
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this
world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33 NIV) Paul said, "We must go through many hardships to enter
the kingdom of God . . ." (Acts 14:22)
Christian living doesn't shelter us
from the realities of life. We must experience trials. Things will
not always go our way. We can't expect them to. Some trials come because
we are human -- sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies.
Other trials come because we are Christians.
Satan fights us, the world opposes us and
this makes for a life of battle.
1 Peter 4:12
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the
painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening
to you. (NIV)
It is helpful to remember how all of us pass
through the same difficulties.
1 Peter 5:8-9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy
the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers
throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what
is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond
what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way
out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV)
James is not speaking of the trials, which
come as a result of reaping what we have sown. He is not speaking of problems
we create for ourselves out of our own stupidity. He is speaking of the
difficulties we face in the natural progression of living for God on planet
earth. However, the Bible emphatically teaches God will help us overcome
the consequences of our personal sin.
Understanding God's Handiwork
As we evaluate our trials and temptations
we should take note the characteristic of each trial we face is different.
Trials come to reveal the different facets of our being as we strive to
understand the application of God's truth to each facet of our lives. Peter
says, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." (1 Peter
1:16) Trials are not all alike; they are like variegated yarn the weaver
uses to make a beautiful rug. God arranges and mixes our trials and experiences
in life in such a way to bring out the best in each of us. The final product
will be a life, which reflects his glory.
Seeking to understand the outcome of
God's handiwork allows us to submit in patience. If you could observe
a weaver weaving a rug on a loom you would observe that the backside of
the rug is not very pretty. The pattern is obscure and the loose ends of
the yarn dangled. But don't judge the worker or the work by looking at
the wrong side of the rug. In the same way we are looking at life from
the wrong side; only the Lord sees the finished pattern. Let's not judge
him or his work from what we see today. His work is not finished yet.
Trials teach us what is important.
When we are living for what matters most, we begin to discover the joy
of Christian living in the midst of our difficulties. Observe the apostle
But whatever was to my profit I now consider
loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss
compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for
whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may
gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that
comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness
that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power
of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming
like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from
the dead. (NIV)
Things that were important to Paul became
garbage in light of his experience with Christ. When we evaluate the trials
of life we must evaluate them in light of what God is doing in us and for
To encourage Hebrew Christian's not to give
up, in the difficulties they faced, the Hebrew writer encouraged them to
fix their " . . . eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and
sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) Christ
was looking beyond the shame of the cross to sitting down at God's right
hand. Envisioning ourselves in heaven with Christ at God's right hand also
brings a great joy to our salvation.
I consider that our present sufferings
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (NIV)
Waiting on the Lord
Victorious living comes through learning
to wait upon the Lord. When Abraham ran ahead of the Lord and married
Hagar; he brought great sorrow to his home (Gen 16). When Moses ran ahead
of God and murdered a man, he had to spend 40 years with the sheep to learn
patience (Ex 2:11ff). Maturity only comes as we persevere in patience.
Patience is developed through responding correctly to trials. In submitting
patiently to God we allow him to complete his work in us.
We must go through the difficulties
of life trusting God and obeying him. As we read about Abraham,
Joseph, Moses, David and even our Lord, we realize that the Lord has a
purpose for our trials and God fulfills his purposes as we trust and obey
You can't teach someone patience out
of a book. Patience only comes through experience.
Lessons We Must Learn
1. Faith is always tested. God
tested Abraham, to mature his faith. God's tests are always designed to
bring out the best. As Satan brings trials our way he seeks to tempts so
as to bring out the worst in us. However, God uses them to our benefit.
2. Testing works for us not against
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
For our light and momentary troubles are
achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix
our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is
temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works
for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his
purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to
the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
3. Trials rightly used help us to mature.
God wants our trials to make us patient because that is the key to every
blessing. Maturity is the result of patience, endurance, and the ability
to keep going when things are tough. In the Bible, patience is not a passive
acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face
of suffering and difficulty.
Therefore, since we have been justified
through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through
whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice
in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. (NIV)
Responding to trials correctly allows us to
see the privilege and importance of the position God has given us in life
regardless of the difficulties.
The brother in humble circumstances ought
to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take
pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.
For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom
falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade
away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres
under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown
of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NIV)
Righteousness guards the man of integrity,
but wickedness overthrows the sinner. One man pretends to be rich, yet
has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. A man's
riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat. (NIV)
Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they
to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is
sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep. (NIV)