Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4 TNIV).
I live in high school football heaven. This last year in Abilene, we had teams in 3-A, 4-A, and 5-A divisions all advance well into the state playoffs. Cooper won district and advanced into the playoffs in 4-A. Wylie finished as state runner up in 3-A. Abilene High won the state championship and was ranked #2 in the nation.
Everyone had a great season. So when they began to work on the re-alignment of high school classifications, Abilene High was hoping to go back to their traditional district (even though it is a much tougher district than the one they were in last year), Cooper was hoping to move back up into the same district as Abilene High (even though they would have to move to the harder 5-A classification), and Wylie was hoping to remain in their current district (even though it is generally considered the hardest 3-A district in the state).
Why? Why want tougher schedules and tougher teams to play?
The same reason each of these teams schedule very hard pre-district schedules. They want to be tested tough by the time district and the playoffs roll around. Rather than fearing challenges and strong opposition, these teams thrive on it because they feel it prepares them for the hard tests they will face later on in the season. The coaches believe in their systems, the character of their players, and that you only get stronger by being tested by other tough teams.
What's interesting about this is that we often pray for the exact opposite in our spiritual lives. It's as if we've been lulled to sleep by our culture's desire for comfort and ease rather than hearing the call of God and the urging of the Holy Spirit to grow into the character of Jesus. We want life to be easy. We want our lives to be immune from difficulty. We want to be spiritually filled by a 60-90 minute dose of church on Sunday and that to be enough.
As I look at the passage cited earlier from James and a similar passage from Paul (see below), I can't help but wonder if we've lost our way. It's not that we don't want to be God's people; we just don't want to have to pay any price to grow into godly character. It would be like those football teams wanting to be top notch without ever having to play tough opponents, practice hard, work on the mental aspects of the game, or do strength and conditioning training in the off season.
Don't get me wrong, I don't cherish persecution, opposition, trial, temptation, or trouble as a follower of Jesus. Yet I also know that these things come whether or not I am a believer — there is simply a lot of tough stuff that comes from being human in a broken universe. The real question that I have to answer — and I admit it is a tough one if I am honest with myself — is this: Do I want to grow in character and compassion to be more like Jesus or do I want to have a life of comfort and walk the path of least resistance.
I know some preachers make it sound like we can have both — that maybe even God designed for us to have both if we are faithful to him. But I simply ask you to hold their picture to the picture portrayed in the book of Acts and what the early believers faced. Or, compare it to what we know of church history or what you know of believers you admire today.
I can't help but believe we need to hit our knees each day and ask God to do what he promised to do through the Holy Spirit (see below)and also ask him to use the Holy Spirit to create in our hearts the desire to be his people of character, at any cost, to his glory.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5 TNIV).
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 TNIV).
How do you re-frame trials so that you can "consider it pure joy" when you face them?
Has your experience been that the path to genuine "hope in the glory of God" follows this path:
sufferings -> perseverance -> character -> hope?
Can you think of a time when this has been true in your life or the life of someone you love?
It's often said, "Trials don't produce character, but simply reveal it."
How does this square with the three passages quoted above in the article?
What do we need to do to carry into our time of trials the character we need to grow through them?
How do the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit help us through times of trials and sufferings so that we can face them with character and come through them with hope?
Photo above from Abilene Reporter News