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Suffering, Trials, and Coping--Help from James
Copyright © 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

A flood of pain and grief have compassed you. Your stomach is tight and it hurts inside. You find yourself grinding your teeth. Your chest feels heavy all the time. Sleep is desperately needed by your fatigued body and mind, but you have not slept for, well you cannot even remember in how long because each time your head touches the pillow your thoughts turn to the impending troubles. And while your brain dwells nonstop on the losses that threaten to overtake you, your mind, though constantly racing, never seems to find a constructive path or a reasonable solution. And more trouble keeps coming, piling on, one on top of the other, suffocating your emotions and your hope.

You have fallen into the dark claustrophobic pit where trials make their home.

Not all trials are of our own construction, though some are. Once in the midst of a trial, frankly, it seems to matter little how you actually got there. What is important is figuring out what to do next.

Your Christian friends are afraid to give you counsel or advice for fear of sounding insipid. More likely they have been intimidated in recent years by counseling philosophies that remove from the Christian lay-person the responsibility of encouraging one another or carrying one anotherís burdens. Oh, the occasional person will quote a non-specific verse fragment about love or comfort, and that is good, but it does not drive to the heart of your real problems. Worse, you feel too personally responsible for your situation to approach your clergy, ever fearful they will blame you or maybe even run you off. And you feel totally alone and overwhelmed. All the while the pressures keep mountingÖ

Most all of us have been there, and most of us will assuredly return to this point again. There are no new problems under the sun which have not plagued men and women all down through history. What makes these problems different is that this time they are happening to you, here and now, and that is an enormous difference.

Introduction

Remember the old song: "Nobody knows the trouble Iíve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus"? There are some very heart-wrenching stories in this world. And while my life has certainly seen trials, some of which continue still, along with their daily mental and physical pain, I count myself among the very fortunate for all that God has done for me, taught me, saved me from, and has given to me. Without a doubt, there are those who have gone through, and are going through, so much more. This article is for those soldiers of the cross, those saints who are in pain, bearing the weight of present trial or anticipating a foreseeable coming test.

As difficult as it might appear, trials are given to us to mold us into Godís image, for His use, for His glory, and for the good of those who love Him. Sounds fairly cliche, right? Still, this truth has been taught straight from the Word for over 2000 years. Very often, the truth does take on that tone when it becomes so familiar, but this article hopes to point out not only these clear truths but also the other possibly less obvious matters that James discusses concerning trials. Not that we can rid ourselves of the pain or the trial, but that we might better understand their purposes.

It is Not Present Joy, It is Joy On the Mortgage Plan

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

"Consider it all joy." James was not saying, "It is all joy when you encounter trials." He actually said, "Make a decision to put this on the ledger so that it will be added into the joy account when you are engulfed by various trials."

Trials are not joy now, as they happen. Trials must be "imagined" to lead to joy. We must "decree" that this trial will add up to joy, sometime in the future. This is what the word "consider" means: "to assess, to decree, to imagine or envision."

Just as with a house mortgage, when you make a payment on the principle loan, you count it, or consider it, as if you were possessing another square foot of your house with the expectation that some day you will claim it all as your property. Until that future date, of course, the bank actually owns the title and all you have is the ledger of accounts adding up to an eventual promise yet to be fulfilled. Trials are not joy now, but they are placed on account in anticipation of that happier time to come.

No one who undergoes a trial is thinking, "Oh joy, what fun!" James is not asking the person surrounded and plunged into trials and grief to pretend they are happy and joy filled. Nor is he rebuking the sorrowful for experiencing genuine emotions of sadness. Rather, James is telling the grief-stricken that this trial is deposited into their account in the joy column, and that this act of mentally imagining the trial to add up to joy is one part of the healing process by which everything is eventually brought into perspective. But James is not asking anyone to put on a mask of joy while their heart is gripped with pain.

Bluntly stated, trials are painful and difficult. Who generally considers pain to be "joy?" If a trial naturally elicited the emotion of joy and if everyone could tell we were in the midst of a severe trial by the huge smile that graced our faces then James would not have had to tell us to think about trials as if they were joy. Instead he would have said, "Trials are joy." God is wise. He knows trials are hard and painful, often causing extreme grief. So He does not tell us that trials are joyful while we pass through them, but He tells us to envision the eventual joyful outcome.

Understanding the Need for Trials

By telling us to think of trials as if they were on the books as joyful events James is not repealing the laws of physics, nor even contradicting good mental health or logic. He is telling us something that is not obvious, that trials can be thought of as "joy" if one understands the need for them. For example, having a loved one die is not a "joyful experience," nor will one feel the emotion of joy when it happens. Nonetheless, even experiencing the loss of one you love can be regarded as "joy" (an expression of happy gratitude to God) when you consider what can or will be the outcome of the trial.

Stated another way, one does not have to be experiencing the emotion of joy right this moment, in the midst of the trial, in order to regard this dark time as that which ultimately causes glad thankfulness to God. If you apply your intellect and your faith, you will see this trial, and all trials, as tools used by God to make you a more dynamic force for His kingdom. And it is this good outcome that causes us to look upon the trial as being a messenger of joy. Cry now, but within your mind gaze upon your circumstances as a mechanism that delivers joy in the end.

There have been times when I have heard someone say that it is the trial itself that should cause the joy, and that the truly spiritual among us will be smiling and laughing in the face of great grief and adversity. However, this is where only a proper interpretation of what James says leads to the peace of understanding; understanding of the purpose of trials and understanding that we do not have to force an unnatural outward emotion when the heart is in pain.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Trials test our faith. When our faith is tested the result is endurance. Trials are to be thought of as if they were joyful events because the outcome is the endurance of our faith. But that is not all, when endurance has been at work for a while it makes one more complete, closer to that elusive perfection we seek. Endurance causes us to lack no spiritual fruit, to not miss out on doing a good work, and to never give in to temptation or sin. So in the middle of our grief we can look to the end and know that the peaceful fruit of righteousness will some day result, and in this way we can mentally agree that this trial is a joy (an event that leads to glad thankfulness to God).

So when will trials end for us? The answer is: When we no longer benefit from having our faith tested. That means we will no longer have trials when our faith has endured to such an extent that we never sin. Therefore, we may safely conclude that trials will never come to an end while we dwell on this Earth.

What Is Endurance?

Trials test our faith. They test our faith in God, in Christ, and in His Word. How do they do this? Consider Job, at one time he was Earthís most perfect man. God gave Satan permission to bring trials to Job with the goal of causing him to forsake, or even to curse, God. Satan wanted Job to literally abandon his faith.

After the loss of health, family, and wealth, and after sitting through the torment of three friends who wrongly accused him of sins he did not commit (they also wrongly spoke of Godís motivations); only after all this did Job break. Job did sin by accusing God of being unjust. Job felt God must be punishing him, and since he felt he had been sinless, he accused God of punishing the innocent. God took exception to Jobís erroneous accusation and ultimately rebuked Job and his three friends. Only the young Elihu remained free of speaking wrongly about God, and about Godís motives, in this entire trial.

Even in all this, Job did not lose his faith. He still kept his belief in God, and even his trust in the holiness of God. In all this, Job did not even utter a curse against God. This is an excellent example of the endurance of faith that results from the testing of that faith. And the more we endure, the stronger our endurance becomes.

What if we fail the test of faith? What if the trial grinds us up and we do doubt God, or doubt His love? This would be a sin. Like any sin, we must confess it, and God who is always faithful and just will forgive us our confessed sins. But what of the trial and endurance? Even a failed trial can be used to grow our endurance if it becomes a learning point for us to reference in the next trial.

Once again, consider Job, he did sin by accusing God of unfairness towards him. God pointed out that He is not bound by our perceptions of human fairness, being the creator of the universe and all that dwells on the Earth--His perspective and intents are beyond human understanding. Job learned a higher respect for God from this experience, repented of his sin of falsely accusing God, and grew in his faith and endurance through the test. It is very unlikely that Job ever falsely accused God of unfairness again. Even in some failure, endurance can be produced.

Endurance Produces Perfection, and Afterwards?

As verse four states, endurance produces perfection, or at least another step towards our perfection. But someday, even this growth will end.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

And the endurance of our faith that we exercise in the midst of trials is the perseverance referred to by James in verse twelve. A lifetime of endurance under trials that test our faith is called perseverance.

One day our perseverance, endurance, trials, and testing will come to an end. We will be stamped "approved." This word "approved" is the word that means, "the endurance testing is completed and the object, product, or person is ready to be received". Some day, God will mark each of us "ready to be received into the kingdom" and our lives on Earth will end. As approved members of the kingdom God will present to us a "crown of life". Eternal life.

One might ask, "If all who love the Lord will receive the crown of life, then why do we have to go through all those trials and all those tests of our faith?" The answer, once again, is: to move us toward godliness. He desires us to grow in godliness on Earth to be of ever greater use to Him, and to grow in our love toward one another. For when we grow in godliness and in brotherly love, we glorify God, that is, we demonstrate His integrity and speak well of Him by our words and actions. We become ever greater witnesses of Him to the world.

Our lives, our work, our trials are not really about us. To live is Christ. We are Godís bond servants, soldiers in the Lordís army. Our purpose is to love and serve God, and to love and serve our neighbors. Trials are Godís means of perfecting His servants so they might excel in glorifying Him, loving Him, and showing His grace and power to the unbelieving world.

It would be a mistake to think we earn salvation by endurance, just as it would be a mistake to think we earn a crown of life by being tested. Our lives will be judged by God, some day, and our works passed through the fire of discernment, but they do not win us salvation. Salvation is a free gift of God to those who love Him and put their faith in Him.

It is not the quantity or the quality of the trials, nor the level of perseverance of faith that one attains that determines when one will be stamped "approved" by God. Some, like John will live long lives and perform great deeds and endure much testing. Others like Stephen will live shorter lives and perhaps endure fewer trials. God determines the time of your death based on His own plans which are designed to fulfill His goals (which includes among other things doing good to His saints). The stamp of approval will be given to all who have believed on Him, regardless of whether they have lived through many trials or few. The stamp of approval is given at death, to certify that the saint has passed from faith, and the season designed for the testing of his faith, to a new life that no longer requires testing or endurance, for faith will be replaced with sight.

It is not the amount or quality of your endurance that wins the approval, it is whether you are one of His children. And it is not your actions that determine when the stamp is applied (that is to say when death is attained) but rather it is His planning that establishes this timing. Our goal is not to show endurance to attain merit for salvation, rather, our goal is to allow endurance through the testing of our faith to grow us up into the likeness of Christ, to become more godly in our actions on Earth so that we are useful and productive, here and now.

Conclusion

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ĎMy son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when your are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.í

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:4-11)

"It is for discipline that you endure."

"He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness."

"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

While there may be a differentiation to be understood between punishment and trials (punishment is correction that calls us to repent of a sin we have committed, while trials are simply designed to help us grow even if we have not committed a specific sin), that distinction is blurred with regard to "discipline" and trials. Discipline means both "training and instruction" as well as "to correct or punish". Trials and certain disciplines are alike in that they train us in holiness. And if Hebrews 12:4 tells us that discipline is to help us resist sin and attain to godliness, have we not just studied that James 1:4 has a similar goal with regard to the perfecting of our faith so that we lack nothing in relation to righteousness?

Trials, similar to discipline, are not pleasant, but they result in our further righteousness once we have been trained by them. Endurance of the faith, bowing to the Word, pursuing godly behavior is our desired response. And some day, a day of Godís own choosing, we will be stamped "approved", receive a crown of life, and live in His light forever. Let the endurance of your faith have its perfect result.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)



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