My preacher often tells the story that each time he asks his wife what he should preach on this week, she always answers, “The Book of James.” I’ve yet to hear him preach on the book of James, but there are some wonderful passages in James that I would like to share with you over the next few weeks. The first passage is known as “Testing Your Faith.”
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James regards trials of life as inevitable. He says when, not if you fall into various trials. At the same time, trials are occasions for joy, not discouraged resignation. I know that sounds like a difficult task, but if we believe that God has a plan for each of us, then we know that the trials will lead to something greater. We can have joy in the midst of trials, because trials are used to produce patience.
Patience is the ancient Greek word hupomone. This word does not describe a passive waiting, but an active endurance. It isn’t so much the quality that helps you sit quietly in the doctor’s waiting room as it is the quality that helps you finish a marathon. The ancient Greek word hupomone comes from hupo (under) and meno (to stay, abide, remain). At its root, it means to remain under. It has the picture of someone under a heavy load and resolutely staying there instead of trying to escape. The philosopher Philo called hupomone “the queen of virtues.”
Faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. Trials reveal what faith we do have, not because God doesn’t know how much faith we have, but to make our faith evident to ourselves and those around us. If trials do not produce faith, what does? Romans 10:17 tells us: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Faith is built in us as we hear and understand and trust in God’s word.
Trials don’t produce faith, but when trials are received with faith, it produces patience. But patience is not inevitably produced in times of trial. If difficulties are received in unbelief and grumbling, trials can produce bitterness and discouragement. The work of patient endurance comes slowly, and must be allowed to have full bloom. Patient endurance is a mark of the person who is perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The act of faith and patience is given to us through God’s infinite wisdom. If we have faith in God, then we can ask his for his guidance. In my nightly prayers, I always begin with “Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Help me to be a better person and to follow the path that you have chosen for me.” God knows that path, and he calls us to follow it. Matthew 7:13-14 says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Life is filled with trials and temptations but our faith can guide us through that narrow gate. We must remain steadfast and patient, for God says we must stand the test to receive the crown of eternal life. We will be tempted and lured and enticed to follow our own desires, but if that desire is given birth through sins, or if desire gives birth to sin, then we must have the patience to resist. If we resist, the rewards will be great.
We must remember that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” which comes down to us from our God in Heaven. So the next time that you are feeling like there is no hope, that the world is against you, or the trials seem too burdensome, rejoice in God and he will lead you through the troubled times. Have faith and patience and you will receive joys and eternal rewards.