James: Joy and Wisdom for Difficult Days
Trials are a part of life, but the inevitability of suffering doesn’t make our pain any easier. Though we recognize that difficulty and suffering are to be expected, sickness, disaster, and despair can still show up and hit us like a freight train. No one can truly be prepared for the various trials of life that come our way. Life can be turned upside down at any moment by cancer, tornadoes, viruses, or a whole host of horrors that occur in our world. In an instant, our lives can become totally jumbled and ridden with strife, anxiety, and grief. This can be a deeply unsettling thought. Our lives are incredibly fragile.
The letter of James firmly acknowledges the difficulties of life and the instability of our physical existence. Indeed, James writes that our life is “a mist that appears for a short time but vanishes” (4:14). If we were to read that without the rest of the letter, it would be quite disturbing and disheartening. We suffer and hurt and then our lives float away into the wind. We slog through life knowing that it can be taken and vanish at any moment. Yet, this is not the whole story. James offers us resolute hope in God. In fact, he opens his letter with these striking words of encouragement:
“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.” (James 1:2-4)
Joy is not the natural reaction for most when they are met with various trials. Even so, Christians can have joy even as we experience very real sorrow and pain. Why? It’s because our
suffering is not meaningless. Though our physical life is indeed like a vapor, our souls do not vanish into dust. God is shaping us for eternity, and he can and does use our various trials to produce in us the kind of character that can hold up and endure. In our unstable reality of suffering in this life, we need to have something sturdy and steady that will hold us. Money, status, fame, and success provide an illusion of security and safety now but offer no true hope that will last. For the Christian, however, a character built on the foundation of Jesus and his grace is something that is substantial. The kind of person who learns to endure with hope and faith in God will gain the reward of eternal life:
“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.” (James 1:12)
This great promise of God allows us to see our trials with new eyes of joy because those trials can produce in us steadfastness, maturity, and greater love for God. God does not waste our suffering. He uses it for our good to shape us into the image of Jesus, if we trust in him. Our trials now are nothing in comparison to the unshakeable glory that God has prepared for us.
Even though this eternal mindset comforts us and instills in us joy, there still remains the issue of actually facing our trials. We may be able to intellectually understand that our trials can be used for our good, but we might still be overwhelmed by the reality of whatever has come our way. We don’t know how to pick up the pieces. We don’t know what to do next. We don’t know the right words to say. In these moments, we certainly can and should look to our eternal hope, but we also have to figure out what to do in the present. We must walk through the stormy reality
of the current moment. This can be quite daunting, especially when we feel totally inadequate to meet the moment. We don’t feel prepared enough, knowledgeable enough, or strong enough.
God not only offers eternal hope and joy for us; he provides for what we need in the present as well. Consider James 1:5:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
When we seek to tackle the vastly complex issues of life on our own by our own wisdom, we will inevitably falter. But the God of heaven is wise and powerful when we are woefully not so. And not only is he wise, he delights in generously giving that wisdom to his children. It is a never ending fountain for those who trust in it. Proverbs tells us that God used wisdom to order the entire universe. It is that same wisdom that can help us make sense of our own messy lives. As we look to God for help in our trials, our Father often does not take away our difficulties, but he does give the wisdom we need to make us into the kind of people that can stand the test with grace and courage. God always gives us exactly what we need, even when we can’t begin to fathom what we need. James 1:17 says this:
“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.”
James reminds us that our Father above is unchanging. In a world of shifting shadows, he is an unchanging, brilliant light shining into our lives. There is no variation; there is no wavering.
We can trust him when everything else feels shaky under our feet. This is the one who gives every good and perfect gift. Everything God does for us is for our good. He will not give us a stone or a snake if we ask for bread. He is not out to trip us up, hurt us, or punish us. He offers his good gifts of wisdom and mercy in our time of need so that we can endure and display his glory to the world.
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of the wisdom of God. He entered into the world to demonstrate to us what it looks like to endure the trials of life in a truly wise and joyful way. Jesus shows us that suffering is not worthless. It is not meaningless. God used the greatest pain and evil in Jesus for the greatest good and joy. And I believe that, if we ask, God will help us to be shaped more and more into people who are wise like Jesus. He will not hold back any good gift from us in our trials because he did not hold back his own Son. In our trials, let us seek the wisdom of God and trust in the one in who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.