James 1: 1 – 12 NLT
“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honoured them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Testing, troubles! In 2020-21, we can relate to those words. Some of us have lost family to Covid19, and the worst part was that we were separated from them during those last precious moments. Some of us have lost jobs, and are struggling to figure out what comes next. Some have a reduced income because the hours have been cut. For small business owners, things may have closed with debt piled up. Most of us don’t like social distancing that keeps us from family and friends. Life is lonely! We miss the emotional health we get from gathering in our Sunday morning services or from small groups at our church. So many community opportunities are not there – no community centres are open, nor health clubs, nor sports activities, etc.
The people that James was writing to also experienced huge troubles. They had to leave Jerusalem and its surrounding area because of persecution from the Jewish leaders and community, as well as persecution from the Roman government. They had lost their jobs, their houses, and had to flee to some area unknown to them. As James wrote this letter, he was not talking to people who were just having a bad day. Every day was difficult; life was very hard.
When you are feeling depressed and frustrated, would you want to hear these words? “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” Yet that is what James writes. Why would he say that trouble brings “great joy”? Here is James’ answer. “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
God wants us to become more like him, more like Jesus. For a moment, think of God as a sports’ trainer for a hockey team. The trainer wants each athlete to become better, and so he thinks of various exercises to assist that growth. Each person on the team is unique, and so they all don’t have exactly the same exercises. Some strengthening exercises are for everyone: some are for individuals. But in the long run, all that hard and sweaty training results in better athletes. But likely there are a couple of athletes on the team who “cheat” a little on the workouts. They find them rather hard, and don’t think it’s really all that valuable or they don’t think the trainer knows what he is doing, so they don’t put in their best effort. Would you expect those athletes to be the “stars” of the team?
James tells us that God knows what we need to grow in our relationship with him. When we feel like life is falling apart around us, we can go to God and ask him for the wisdom to deal with our difficulties. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” But God does ask us to trust him completely, to understand that God will provide what we need. Sometimes, we think we know what we need; we have our own plans. But James tells us that we definitely need to trust God.
I’ve used this example from my own life before, but it is such a good example of how God provided what I needed even though I didn’t think it was the answer. When my husband required a liver transplant, I needed to go back to work since one couldn’t count on a transplant coming when needed. I knew from my previous experience in teaching what I was qualified for, but when the only opportunity that was given was teaching in alternative education, I was sure that was not what I should do – but I had no other option at the time. But God knew I needed that job to bring me out of my cozy middle-class world to understand and love people who were struggling big time. Yes, God provided the income I needed in case of my husband’s death, but he also provided a job that grew me in so many ways that I needed to grow. God knows each one of us, and he knows what we need.
James gives the example of poor versus rich people. God knows that people who are needy in some way need encouragement, and God will provide that. God also knows that people who think they have everything under control need to understand that they don’t. God knows exactly what each one of us needs, no matter how successful or pathetic we think we are. We can trust God completely when life goes smoothly, and we can trust God completely when hard times come our way.
Sometimes our difficult times don’t last too long. For others, life is hard for a long time. For us now in 2021, the vaccines are a sign of hope. Many may feel that they will be able to get back to being with family and friends – a social life; but, for others the results of the pandemic may continue with financial or emotional hardship. Quite apart from the pandemic troubles, some may continue going through hard times with ongoing health issues, or dealing with a family member whose health problems makes life more difficult. James continues with this advice: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” God doesn’t necessarily promise happiness in this life, but there will always be a reward for those who patiently endure testing and temptation.
Our song for today is God Help Me by Plumb.