I love to travel. The above photo was taken by my Ukrainian exchange student, Iryna, as we drove through Utah toward Colorado on our Spring Break cross country road trip with my adult daughter. What a journey that was! (More about that another time.)
I love mountains. There is something timeless and wise hidden there, always just out of reach, or maybe we can, for a fleeting instant, touch it with our mind before it dissipates like mist in the sun.
The Bible is like that, too. Full of timeless wisdom that is sometimes elusive, flitting and fluttering like a butterfly in spring. Other times so obvious it buries us like an avalanche of snow. Sometimes it is hard work, like digging out of a snowbank, to understand the hefty meanings hidden inside the ancient words. Sometimes they pop out waving their arms and shouting, “Here I am! Look here!”
James, the brother of Jesus, writes about wisdom and truth. He writes in the context of trials and tests. I don’t know too many people who enjoy being in the midst of a trial or a test. As a teacher, I know my students would prefer to forego tests. However, I know they are meant for good. In my classroom tests are never the end game. They aren’t one and done. I give tests to see how much students have learned, yes. But once I find out, students have a chance to learn more and retest.
That’s how I see the tests and trials that God allows. Just as I have an end goal for my students, God has an end goal for his children. He wants to purify us and make us holy. He wants to strengthen His relationship with us and bring us to live with Him for eternity. He wants us to influence those around us toward knowing Him, so He can do the same for them.
To prepare us for the tasks we are set to do, He allows trials to intersect our lives. James says in James 1:2 that we are to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (NIV) That sounds like utter nonsense at face value. Why would anyone be overjoyed at the prospect of hard times? Because without tests, we don’t know what we don’t know.
Think of the coach of a basketball team. He has many players of various levels of experience and ability. If he never allows the younger players or the ones with lesser ability to play in game situations, they will never develop the skills they need to step in when it is their turn to make a difference. The coach carefully selects situations and tests these players. They may be uncomfortable. They may not feel equipped or ready, but the coach knows they will never be if he doesn’t put them through the trial.
God is like the coach. He is always good. He is always sovereign. He looks for opportunities for us to grow, often through testing. Growth hurts sometimes, but it is necessary if we are to fulfill the plan He has for our lives. If we are to step in and make a difference, we must be mature.
Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth—it is skill at living the truth.
Skill is gained through practice, through making mistakes and learning from them. What good is truth, if we don’t know how to live it? What good are intentions, if we can’t sustain them?
That is where the joy comes in. We experience joy in trials because we know it is our good and sovereign God bringing us to a mature faith, to a place where we can make a difference in the lives of those around us. Maturity brings wisdom which comes from a foundation of prayer and a relationship with Jesus Christ who gives us the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helper and guide.
Therefore, persevere through your trials. Rejoice and praise God for the opportunity to mature. Pray through your pain. Share your sorrow with the Father. He promises us in Deuteronomy 8 that He will never leave nor forsake us. He is with us through the trial. We will emerge from it more mature, more prepared for the task set ahead. This is a hard thing. Please don’t think I am being flippant or unsympathetic to those in trials. I’m not. Life is difficult. Trials are not fun. But looking ahead through the trial—recognizing the hope that exists there—and seeing that we are never alone, can pull us through unimaginable trouble.
I pray that all of us will have strength in our trials. Strength that comes from God and the knowledge that He is good and He is sovereign. I pray protection from Satan as he tries to insert doubt and fear between us and Jesus, our Advocate and Savior. I pray we will remember that the Joy of the Lord is our Strength and in You is our Hope. I pray we will persevere until the work is complete, that we won’t follow the temptation to jump out of the fire before we are refined. I pray for comfort and help from fellow believers as we walk our difficult paths. Thank you for your good and perfect gifts meant to prepare us for the tasks ahead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I want to thank Don Nedza, pastor of my church, for many of these thoughts and insights. He gave me permission to share them. I pray they will be as significant for you as they are for me.