Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Few of us enjoy tests. When I was in school, even when I was confident that I had prepared adequately, I was nervous about taking tests. Tests, by design, challenge us and push our limits. In fact, good tests have a few surprises thrown in. The point of a test is not to see if the student can parrot back information, but to see if the student understands and can use the information.
It is easy for me to live my faith in the theoretical realm. I can read scripture and affirm the truth that it teaches. I can give the “right” answers when people come to me for counsel. I can even unpack a passage of scripture fairly effectively in a sermon. But the real test of my faith comes when the heat gets turned up and I have to do the hard thing.
Knowing the right thing to do, and doing the right thing, does not guarantee smooth sailing. Often, it sends us into white water. When that happens, our tendency is to second guess our decision. Satan whispers in our ear that it would be easier to just go with the flow. Or he begins to tell us that we are bad for making this choice, or that things will never work out and it will only get worse.
James gives us very different advice. He tells us to stay the course. Instead of giving into negative thoughts, we need to see the potential. Just like tests in school, the trials of life take our faith from theoretical to practical. What does my faith say about this situation? How would God have me respond? What would God have me to do? The path to a truly mature faith always leads through testing and trials.
Some of the trials that we face are the result of bad choices on our part. We all make mistakes along the way. None of us are perfect in our conduct. When we have strayed off the path, we need to admit our mistake and make course corrections. Unfortunately, our first response is to defend ourselves and excuse our behavior. If we do that, we will fail the test. Instead, we need to be honest and humble, ask for forgiveness, and as best as we can repair the damage.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
Some of the trials that we face are the result of making good choices. In a world dominated with sin, making good choices often puts us at odds with our surroundings. The temptation here is to back off and compromise. At the time, that may seem like the pragmatic thing to do, but it will erode our faith. Sacrificing what is right for the sake of temporary peace is a no win situation.
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:18-21
Many of the trials that we face are the result of living in this fallen world. Part of the consequence of Adam’s sin is that life will be hard. To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:17-19
As we travel this journey of life, we can expect to face all kinds of tests and trials. We will fail some and we will pass some. The goal is that we will learn from each test, and grow strong in our faith. The X-factor in the trials of life is from where are we drawing our strength? If we are trusting in ourselves, we will fail more tests than we pass. But, if we will fully trust in the wisdom and guidance of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we will grow mature and complete.
"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."