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By BILL BLANKENSHIP
What are we to do when trials come? We’re very fickle in our faith, aren’t we? We are inconsistent, ambivalent. We sing, “My faith looks up to thee” — until the medicine stops working, until the lights go out, until the bill comes due and we don’t have what it takes to pay it. Until our grades slip or our career takes a turn or we lose a mate.
How do we learn consistent faith? We learn it one day at a time. We learn it through endurance. James writes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2–3). He’s not talking about a will-o-the-wisp faith that starts out on the 100-meter sprint and, quicker than you can think, is over. Anybody can handle that kind of faith. Anybody can take 10, 15, or 20 minutes of a test. But 10 days, or 15 days, or a year, or two or three? Well, that’s another matter. That’s the enduring faith James is talking about.
How can we rejoice when trials come? How can a person consider trouble as an opportunity for joy? This is a remarkable command we are to choose to be joyful in situations where joy would naturally be our last response. When certain circumstances make us angry and we want to blame the Lord, James directs us to the healthier alternative joy. Those who trust in God ought to exhibit a dramatically different, positive response to the difficult events of life.
Our attitude is to be one of genuine rejoicing. This is not joyful anticipation for trials. Instead, it is joy during trials. The joy is based on confidence in the outcome of the trial. It is the startling realization that trials represent the possibility of growth. In contrast, most people are happy when they escape trials. But James encourages us to have pure joy in the very face of trials. James is not encouraging believers to pretend to be happy. Rejoicing goes beyond happiness. Happiness centers on earthly circumstances and how well things are going here. Joy centers on God and his presence in our experience.
The word whenever doesn’t allow much room for doubt. We are urged to be joyful not if we face trouble, but whenever. Trials, problems, situations can be joy robbers if we lack the proper attitude. Where does this trouble come from? The troubles and trials we face can be hardships from without or temptations from within. A trouble may be a hard situation that tests a person’s faith such as persecution, a difficult moral choice, or a tragedy. Life’s trail is marked with such trials. Enduring one trial is not enough. God’s purpose in allowing this process is to develop complete maturity in us.
Considering your troubles to be joy comes from seeing life with God’s perspective in mind. We may not be able to understand the specific reasons for God’s allowing certain experiences to crush us or wear us down, but we can be confident that his plan is for our good. What may look hopeless or impossible to us never looks that way to God!
Bill Blankenship is pastor of North Tongass Baptist Church.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.