“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3 NIV
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical. One of the things I did, during that time, was ride my bike every morning. One morning I was greeted with overcast skies and the promise of rain. The air was cool and slightly damp. I zipped up my jacket, put on my helmet and gloves and mounted my bike. A gentle breeze greeted me as I rode out our long driveway toward the road. This isn’t too bad, I thought. Once I was on the bike path, I began to pick up the pace. I was feeling strong. The pedals rotated smoothly and easily. I looked at my watch. I was making good time, so I decided to extend my ride, and go to the next intersection, beyond my usual turn-around point. I had intended to gradually extend the length of my ride anyway. It seemed like the right day to do that.
I reached my new turn-around point, with no problem and a lot of energy. As soon as I made the turn, I knew why I had made such good time. A virtual wind tunnel accosted me. What had been a brisk, easy ride became a battle against the wind. I shifted down, ducked my head and pushed for home. My pace slowed to a crawl. Each stroke of the pedal was an effort. My heart began beating more quickly and the sweat started forming on my back. I no longer gazed across the open farmlands. Instead, with head bent low, I focused on the pavement in front of me.
All of us face resistance in life. It comes in many forms. It comes in the form of the stiff wind of a co-worker, who seems to do everything possible to keep us from succeeding. It comes in the form of the coldness of a relative, who not only rejects faith in Christ, but finds subtle ways to mock our faith. It comes in the form of the relentless drain of health issues that never quite get resolved. It comes in a multitude of forms. It comes to all of us.
What are we to do with this resistance? How are we to handle it? There are different ways to deal with resistance in our lives. We can complain about it. This feels good at the time, but it doesn’t change anything. On my bike ride, I could have stopped and complained about the wind, but that wouldn’t have gotten me home. We can submit to the resistance. This is the passive approach. When we do that, it blows us farther and farther away from where we want to be. It would have been easier for me to ride with the wind, but if I had, I’d still be pedaling. We can choose to fight the resistance. This is a very popular approach today. As a society, we are quick to strike back, when others oppose us. In the end, this only serves to make us weaker and the resistance stronger. It would be like me trying to blow against the wind to turn it around. There is another way to approach resistance. We can stand up to it. If we do, we become stronger and better able to handle new resistance in the future.
James tells us that resistance plays a positive role in our lives. In James 1 he writes these words. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) James gives us an interesting approach to resistance in our lives. He tells us to use the resistance in our lives for our benefit. He gives us three insights into turning resistance into growth.
First, keep a healthy attitude. James says, “Consider it pure joy” when you face the trials and pressures of life. I have to admit that joy is not my first response to resistance. When I turned my bike toward home, and that stiff wind hit me in the face, I didn’t respond with, “Isn’t this wonderful. I get to ride against the wind all the way home.” On the contrary, I thought to myself, boy did I make a mistake.
On the surface, it is hard for us to equate pure joy with the trials and pressures of life. Yet James has a point. It comes in the word “consider.” Trials and pressures are a normal part of life. In most cases we have little or no choice in whether or not we will face them. But, we do have the choice of how we will face them. We can choose to let the resistance we face have a negative effect on us, or a positive one. James tells us to intentionally look positively at the trials of life. Let me give you an example.
In the book of Acts, we read about the trials of the early church. As the church was beginning to develop in Jerusalem, it faced resistance from the religious leaders. On one occasion, the religious leaders had the Apostles arrested and put in jail for preaching about Jesus. Before their release, the Apostles were flogged and ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus any more. Most of us would have left that place like whipped dogs, with our tails between our legs. But not the Apostles. In Acts 5:41 it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They chose to face resistance with joy.
When we face resistance in our lives, we too can choose to consider it joy. Our joy is not in the resistance, but in what it signifies. When we face resistance in our lives, because we are actively living out our faith, we can rejoice because we know we are heading in the right direction. Jesus told us that in John 15:18-19. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
The second thing we learn from James is to persevere. To persevere is to persist in an endeavor despite resistance and difficulties. In other words, don’t give up. When we face resistance, the temptation we face is to give up and coast. As I was struggling on my bike, against the wind, and my legs were beginning to ache, I wanted to stop pedaling and just coast. But you can’t coast when you have a stiff wind in your face.
If we are going to persevere in life, there are three things we will need to do. First, keep our eyes on the goal. When I’m biking my goal is to make it home. In life, our goal is to be like Christ. We cannot let resistance take our eyes off the goal. No matter what happens in the short term, our long term purpose remains intact. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:13-14. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Second, stay the course. The temptation, when resistance comes, is to go with the flow. But when we do that, we will always go in the wrong direction. Instead, we need to be even more intentional about staying focused. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “...let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) Third, keep pedaling. If you are facing resistance at work, keep doing your job to the best of your ability. If you are facing resistance at home, keep loving that person. If you are facing resistance from within, discipline yourself to keep doing what you know is right. When you are riding a bike, there is only one way to get home, by pedaling. In the Christian life, there is only one way to maturity; keep moving forward, one step at a time.
There is a third thing we learn from James about facing resistance. The result of having the right attitude and of persevering is maturity. Resistance doesn’t have to be destructive in our lives. In fact, when it is handled in the right way, resistance can be very constructive. I didn’t like pedaling against the wind on my morning bike ride, but I knew that, if I kept doing it, I would become stronger. None of us like facing trials in life, but, if we face them in a godly way, they will make us stronger.
James gives us a clue about what he means by the word mature. He qualifies it with the word complete. Not lacking anything. Spiritual maturity is, in part, having all the resources we need to face the situation before us, and knowing how to use them. Maturity is not a destination, but a process. Instead of being static, maturity is dynamic, ever changing and growing. What it means to be mature changes as we move through life and face new challenges. The more resistance we face in life, the more opportunity we have to add to our storehouse of resources.
We do not have to wonder if we will face resistance in life. Resistance is a given. The question is, how will we face resistance when it comes?