James 1: 2-8
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Although this passage is concerned with everyday Christian life, there are two parts to it.

1.  How to cope with hassle.

Living with the presence of God in our lives brings joy. This joy is a gift of God, given freely, so it is possible for Christians to rejoice even in times of persecution.

Should we therefore consider trials themselves to be a reason for  joy? I’m not sure we should, it really doesn’t make much sense.  Maybe we need to consider our understanding of the term ‘pure joy’. In our ‘me’ society, joy is an emotion we feel. It is unlikely that this is what James is talking about, ‘pure joy’ seems to be much more.

Psalm 51:10-1310 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

This also does not seem to be talking about feeling happy, it suggests that our understanding has lost something. Joy seems to imply a kind of completeness, something we cannot do without.

However it is also true that trials are a source of maturity if we can face them with joy.(v3)  This means that we do not look on the fact that we experience trials as a good thing, we look on the fact we are maturing as a good thing. This keeps us focused on what God is doing, not the trials we are experiencing.  This is surely part of what Paul was talking about.

Phil 4:12-13

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

This then is living outside of the control of circumstance.  Verse 3 also refers to the trials as testing our faith. Does this mean that the passage is only referring to ‘spiritual’ tests?  No, I think it is suggesting that all difficulties we encounter impact our faith. It can be positive or negative, it depends on our choices.  Unfortunately for our ‘quick fix’ mentality the words ‘develops perseverance’ are also in there, maturity is something that has to be continually worked on.

Verse 4 says that hassle is not an option, it is the only way to mature. Maybe we do not value something that has not cost us anything.

2.  How to cope with reality

The wording in verse 5 is interesting, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom’. Is it suggesting that there is an achievable ‘higher way’, when will know the answers to everything? Experience suggests otherwise.  Fortunately for us, God does not see what we consider to be disqualifying limitations.

You want wisdom, you got wisdom, just ask.  So often we can’t receive because, in effect, we think we know ourselves better than God does.  We will not allow God’s provision until we believe we have achieved sufficiently to merit it.

Verse 6 says that doubt is the opposite of belief, it robs us of our anchor of faith in the certainty of God’s goodness.

Does ‘anything’ (v7) mean absolutely anything, or does it simply refer to receiving wisdom? (v5)

‘he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does’, suggests the pointlessness of asking for something that we do not believe will happen anyway, and that it points to a deeper limitation in our outlook and life.

To sum up, we will have nasty stuff happen to us. It will test our faith and give opportunity for growth if we see it as such. If we can’t see it as such then we should ask God to show us where our understanding is faulty, and give us his understanding.

© Paul Wood