By B.J. Funk –
As my eyes fell over the first verses in James, I felt inner anguish. How could James write, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4)?
Who cares about perseverance? I was rolled into a knot, crying my heart out day and night, and this was no help! Wasn’t the Bible supposed to comfort me in my troubles? I labeled James as an out-of- touch, over-my-head man. I skipped over those verses for many years to come.
I was young then. My eyes moved right over a key word James intended for me to see, but I did not see it then. The word is when. James does not say, “if you face trials,” but “when you face trials!” James is saying that trials are a sure thing, and when they come, consider it joy.
I am looking back now over thirty years of training in these three verses. I finally get it. I started by deleting the idea of joy being a great giggle and replacing it instead with the idea of delight and pleasure. “Count it all delight and pleasure, when you face trials.” I also erased my thinking that I was to find joy in the trial itself. James never said that. My paraphrase then became, “When you face a difficulty, think of the delight and pleasure you will derive as you learn to persevere and grow your roots deeper into the Christian soil.”
About the time I was struggling with this, books came out advising to “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Again, one word brought my confusion, and I thought I was to thank God for the desperately painful situation. But, the phrase reads, “thank God in all circumstances.” I later understood that, in everything that happens, good or bad, I include God, turn it over to him, and look to him to bring something good from it. The last part of that verse does not indicate that the circumstance itself is God’s will. Instead, God’s will is that we give thanks to him.
I now believe that a heartache, a trial, a disappointment, a grief – these are the best things God uses to grow a Christian. We become a Christian when we accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, along with his resurrection. We are made into Christians as we walk barefoot over thorns and rocks in the valley, becoming desperate for God.
Paul is right when he says in First Corinthians 13, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child.” Some Christians are still children in their faith. When trials come, they rebel with, “Why me?” Many will live and die on this earth without the realization that we live in a fallen world, plagued with heartache. If we will allow those heartaches to shape us, grow us, and carve our character, we will begin to put away childish things. We will understand and desire perseverance. We will know joy!
In the early centuries of Christian persecution, non-Christians were amazed that martyrs did not die angrily. They died singing! One was asked why he smiled in the flame, and he said, “I saw the glory of God and was glad!” Pure joy!
We come out of these painful times realizing how much we need our Lord. In the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, the stuffed rabbit was loved by a little boy. His love made the rabbit become real. God’s love carries us into the thorn-filled valley, stays by our side, and loves us into healing. His goal is that we leave behind our surface Christianity and become real.
I have had a taste of the sweet waters of Christianity that flow from the bitter springs of pain. I would go through every trial again to have this deeper, satisfying life.
Forgive me, James. Long ago, I wanted to cut those first words out of your book! I’ve changed. Now I want to thank you for those life-saving truths.
More than anything, I want to be real.