#5 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Faith

So, we have determined that the reason we face trial and difficulty is so that the Lord can develop endurance within us. That aspect of His nature that resembles his everlasting and eternal quality. Through suffering we become more like Him and can bear His image more fully on the Earth. A true reason to rejoice!

So my question for us today is: how is this done? How exactly is endurance bolted into us? Yes, it is done through the use of trial, but how exactly does that establish endurance within us? What changes?

James explains that endurance forms when our faith is tested. When it is proved and refined. When it is pushed to its limit. When it is bent and bruised and beaten. That is when endurance grows.

A good example is the human body. Back in the day when I used to gym (I know, you wouldn’t say it, would you…), I would try to build muscle by doing as many different weight exercises as I could. After a month or two, I picked up some muscle, but it never grew any bigger. I asked the gym instructor what I was doing wrong and he explained to me that even though my strength was at a certain level, I needed to start pushing my limit and begin lifting weights that were almost too heavy for me, and at the same time drink and eat a lot of protein. He explained that as the muscles tore the protein would go and fill the open spaces and that would subsequently grow my muscles. And faith is much the same.

For endurance (muscles) to grow, faith (strength) needs to be pushed to its limits. And as it tears, and we eat and drink of the Lord, those gaps begin to fill up with the protein of His life, and our endurance grows bigger and stronger. Yes, it is difficult, and for a time, while the protein is setting into the open tears, we must walk around with paining muscles, but at the end of the day the result is a stronger and more sturdy spiritual frame that is full of faith and resembles Christ. And that is another true reason to rejoice!

Lord, I ask that we will see trial and suffering from your perspective. That we would see it as you, the heavenly gym instructor increasing the weights that we exercise our muscles with. So that our spiritual bodies will not be so weak and frail, but instead be strong, fit and full of faith like Jesus Christ. Teach us your ways. Amen

#4 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Endurance

So we have determined that to see suffering from the Lord’s perspective, we really must look at what the scriptures say. We must not base our understanding on our emotions or past bad experiences. Rather, we must ask the Lord to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ and desire to be filled with real truth. Only then, will we be able to consider trials, temptations, and suffering as an opportunity for rejoicing. And only then, will we be able to allow endurance to do a thorough work in our lives in the midst of our suffering.

As James continues, he explains that the reason we are to rejoice in our suffering, is because the process is designed to plant and develop endurance within us. And that to him is clearly something worth rejoicing about.

Now, since when has endurance been so important? I mean, today we are not encouraged to have endurance. Maybe if you were an athlete. But in general, we live in a consumer society. Start something, don’t finish it. Need something, buy it immediately. Tired of something, give it up or throw it away. Choices are limitless, and living for Now all that’s important. We do not really understand the concepts of steadfastness, patience, investment, long-term, growth, and endurance. The concepts that the scriptures seem to be full of. The one’s that James is focusing in on here. So why does he focus on endurance and what is it anyways? Well, dictionary dot com defines it as follows:

  1. the fact or power of withstanding (enduring) or bearing prolonged pain, hardships, strain, etc.
  2. the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: (He has amazing physical endurance).
  3. lasting quality; duration: (His friendships have little endurance).
  4. Steadfastness: constant, firm, unwavering.
  5. Patience: calm endurance of hardship, provocation, pain, delay, perseverance.

Lasting quality! That sounds almost like the word “Eternal” – Which is an aspect of the person of God. He is firm, strong, steadfast no matter what, forever, never-ending, ever-lasting, the alpha and omega, timeless, eternal. I like that. It’s like trial is designed to develop within us an aspect that relates to the person of God. To become like Him.  For we are made in His character, and should in essence reveal His nature. Is that not why we were made in the first place? To fill the Earth with the image of God. It would seem that even though Adam and Eve fell and subsequently lost much of their nature that revealed God, He did not give up on His quest. No, He determined to use whatever means necessary to reclaim His image bearers on the Earth. To develop and establish within man, that which He is. And so fill the Earth with his image.

So, the charge is to embrace suffering and allow endurance to be developed within us, and so, as people fully developed and lacking nothing, we fill the Earth with God’s enduring and ever-lasting image. That which he has purposed from the beginning of time.

Lord, your desire is to fill the Earth with your image. It is one of the main things that motivated you to create. To have a people that revealed your nature and character perfectly. And for them to multiply and forever fill the Earth with You. Thank you that we can be those image bearers. Please do whatever it takes to develop us into that which we were made to be. Fill us with endurance, fill us with You.

#3 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James1:1-18]: Perspective

So we have established that we should consider suffering and difficulty as an opportunity for JOY! In looking at them as a means through which we reach the top (of that mountain) and receive the glory that awaits us there. The pain being a momentary experience, only a means to an end. But before we can begin to climb this mountain of suffering, or think about the top, we first need to consider how to go about doing so. We need a strategic perspective. A professional approach.

James explains in verse 3 that we should be assured and understand that the trial and proving of our faith bring out endurance (and steadfastness and patience). Now to be assured of something is to really trust that it will happen. And to understand something is to see it from a realistic perspective. In this case the Lord’s. James is assuring his brothers and sisters that when they belong to the Lord, trial is a good thing. And they should see it like that. They should not moan about trial, or try to avoid it, or feel guilty and bad because their lives are not sweet and smooth. Or even feel less loved by God because of the suffering in their lives. On the contrary, the opposite feelings should arise. They should see it as an opportunity to rejoice in the Lord, for He has allowed a time in which they will develop and grow. He has brought on a season of progression. A time in which they can mature in wisdom. One that will require closer dependence on Him and more need for His life and character to be developed within them. I could even go so far as to say that James is encouraging them to see trail as a loving gift from their heavenly Father. One that is meant for their good, and not for evil. But that again is a matter of perspective.

Now I know that many people have faced very real suffering in this world, terrible things that no person should ever experience. And often these are brothers and sisters that love God and follow Him wholeheartedly. And yes the question does beg, “how can a loving God allow suffering?” And as much as that is a very important question, one that many have asked, and one to which I too would love an answer, I do not want us to get into it just yet. For now, I would like us to just look at these scriptures at face value and receive wisdom from them for our lives. Allow the scriptures to speak to us without our own agendas, experiences, or emotions determining the way we read them, and so clouding our ability to receive and believe the truth set out in them. We have to be professional. Approach the scriptures objectively and with a desire to understand them for what they are. Only then will we truly see from the Lord’s perspective and be able to understand suffering correctly.

So, may we, as in the words of James just a little later on in this chapter be as one who looks carefully into the faultless law, the law of liberty that sets you free, and be faithful to it and persevere in looking into it, being not a heedless listener who forgets but an active doer who obeys, and so be blessed in that life of obedience.

Lord, thank you so much that life from your perspecitive is worth living. That when we see things the way you do, we are able to live in a way that is wise and in a way that works. I trust that during this time you will really shift our perspective closer to your own and help us see, think, and walk in a way that pleases you. May we truly understand trail and be assured of your love for us in the midst of suffering. Amen.

#2 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: JOY!

I love James. He says to consider it a “JOY” when encountering trials, difficulty, or even temptations. Lets look at what the concept of Joy actually entails from the Random House Dictionary:

  1. The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.
  2. A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.
  3. The expression or display of glad feelings; festive gaiety.
  4. A state of happiness or felicity.

I must say, only in the Bible have I ever come across the concept of seeing suffering as something “exceptionally good and satisfying.” Something that gives “pleasure” and “delight.” Generally, things I associate with pleasure are things that actually “feel” nice. Like drinking a cup of tea, having a warm bath, or eating a scrumptious meal. But to be honest, through all the trials that I’ve been through, I have never felt feelings of pleasure or elation. It did not feel “festive.” Anything but in fact. It felt tough, and at times very painful, confusing and other feelings that can only be described by little stars ****.

Granted though, James does not say to “Feel” Joy, but to “Consider” it a Joy. Which means that its more of a mental approach to trial than an emotional one. I think its like climbing a mountain. It is extremely tough and even painful, but you climb with a sense of real joy, because you know that you are conquering something great. You are enduring the difficulty because of the prize that awaits at the summit. So you consider the process a joy. You look at it from a different perspective. You climb with the top in mind. You lead your emotions with your mind. The future glory of reaching the top determining your current state. It’s like living in the tension between the now and the not yet. And I believe that it is in that place that endurance is formed. And it is that which the Lord desires to develop in us. But more on that soon.

Lord, may we truly understand the meaning of suffering, seeing it from your perspective rather than based on how it feels. May we be filled with wisdom and truly become mature in our thinking and walking. May we realise that all of life is designed for us to get to know you better, and consider suffering more of a joyful trip up a mountain with you, than anything else our feelings would tell us. Amen.