I wonder how many of us tonight feel that we are under great trials. Maybe something at work is not going the way we want, or something at school isn’t turning out as you had anticipated, or maybe something in your personal life is a great struggle to you, and you are wondering why you have to go through it. Why is it, we may wonder, that God even allows trials to come along to His children? I mean, we could reason that if we were trial-free that people would definitely be astounded at a Christian’s lifestyle. Talk about evangelism being a simple task, we would simply say to anyone who was lost, “Do you want to know how to have a life without any trials?” and they would come flooding.
But that’s not the way it is, is it? Christians have as many trials as anyone one else, and counting opposition from the world possibly even more than others. How is it then (since we can’t point the world to our lack of trials) that we are to show ourselves different from the world? After all, isn’t that our goal—to live in this world, under the same conditions and yet live differently?
I think the way that we are to live differently from the world is not in having less trials, but in our responding differently to these trials. Tonight I want to try to share from three verses in James how I think Christians are supposed to handle trials in a way that will result in not only drawing the attention of the world but in making us more conformed to the image of Christ that we may be found complete in Him on that final day.
First, know that trials will come in life. I know that this is a simple thing, but some of us might be under the delusion that if we live right and holy that we can avoid trials in our lives. And for those of you who think such a thought is absurd, ask yourself what your response is when something goes really wrong in life. If you are like most people, I bet that you instantly think to yourself, “What have I done to deserve this?” You then start searching every area of your life thinking there is simply a sin that you need to confess and that if you had not done that everything would have turned out differently.
Do you see what we’re doing by thinking such a thing? We’re falling into this trap of thinking that we merit everything that happens in our lives. If someone is in a trial we all of the sudden assume the person is hiding sin. Isn’t that exactly what Jobs friends did. They just knew that Job had to have merited what happened to him, but that wasn’t the case at all. The world is not ruled in a manner in which those living good lives are always rewarded here and those living bad lives are always punished here. As with Job, bad things happen to good people. Trials will come.
Notice James does not say in verse one, “Do good that you may avoid trials,” but rather he says, “… when you encounter various trials …” He knows they are going to come and so should we, no matter how good we think we are living. And we shouldn’t necessarily assume one is in sin if he or she is going through a trial. Now trials can be linked to sin but not always.
Why do I make such a big point of establishing this truth? The reason is that I think Scripture calls for us to have a different perspective on trials than we do. Something that will revolutionize our lives is to start thinking of trials as something God is allowing in our lives because He wants to bless us. Now that’s a paradigm shift isn’t it? God gives trials because He wants to bless us.
Think of those who underwent great trials in Scripture. I’ll bring out three: Job, Joseph, and Paul. These individuals all have at least four things in common: 1) they went through great trials, 2) they had to have wondered why they were undergoing such trials while trying to serve their Lord, 3) God was working in the midst of their trials, and 4) they were blessed after or as a result of their trials.
I don’t think I need to prove the fist two, but let me show you the last two from Scripture
With Job—Read Job 1:8
With Joseph—Read Genesis 50:20.
With Paul—Read 2 Corinthians 12:7
In all these circumstances you can see that God was the one working in the trial. In Job, He initiated it. And in the end, He blessed His child greatly. In Genesis, Joseph says God had an intent for the trials from the beginning. And God blessed him in all of Egypt. And with Paul, though he says “a messenger from Satan,” when was the last time Satan was working to create humility in God’s people? Obviously God was working in this trial and blessed Paul by showing His power in Paul’s weakness. God can allow trials to come to us because He wants to bless us. They will come, but this perspective will put us in a position to respond to them correctly.
Then we might ask, “What is God working in tour trials? Why are they necessary?” The answer is in James 1:3, “… knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Secondly, we need to realize that God is allowing trials that we may endure until the end. At least one way God ensures His people endure until the end is by allowing trials to come their way.
How does this work? In our trials, we are often brought to our knees in search of answers in His word. This is the exact thing that one needs to do to continually abide in Christ. Learn from His word and on your knees. Remember a few weeks back in 1 John 2. John had just talked about some who had not endured, and he concludes they were never genuine believers (v.19). Then, however, he says in verse 24, “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” Enduring comes from abiding in Christ which is brought about often from the trails Christians face. Realize God is allowing trials for your endurance.
Third, in the midst of your trial, determine to let God do His work. Or as James puts it, “And let endurance have its perfect result.” As you encounter a trial, determine to yield yourself to God that He may work in you. Decide to be a moldable vessel in His hands so that He can conform you to the image of His Son. As the hymn goes, let him mold you as you are “waiting, yielded, and still.”
After all, according to the end of verse 4, God is wanting to make you perfect. He has simply used this trial to make you moldable. Actually say to God in your time of trial, “Lord, I have encountered a trial and I know that it is for the purpose of enduring that I may be complete, lacking nothing, so I yield myself to you that you may teach me and do with me what you will.”
I think you will find the result of this incredible. I have entered a trial with one of the worst outlooks thinking my world had been crushed and, after doing this, felt like I had been completely changed. I felt that who I was when I got up from this time was not the same person who had sat down. And in fact I was able to rejoice in the midst of my trial witnessing the work of God.
That brings me to the last thing that I want to point out. As you do these things, rejoice at what God is doing. This is the key exhortation given by James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” he says in verse 2. At first reading this, it may sound impossible, but when you consider the reasons we have given—the reasons James gives, it is not only possible, but it will flow out of us.
We can rejoice because of who we are as God is perfecting us. James 1:18 tells us that we are “the first fruits of His creation.” Now what does this mean? After all, man was the last thing to be created as we read in Genesis. Yes, but as God redeems (or re-creates) this world, we are the very first fruits of His work in redemption. Man actually gets to taste redemption before the rest of the created order.
To say this a little more clearly, God is creating the world again to be perfect. This is His work of redemption. There will be a new heavens and a new earth. And they will be perfect, without sin. And the people who dwell with Him will be perfect as well. God has actually started perfecting us now. Now, we will not be complete and perfect until that final day, but with every trial that comes along, we can see that God is molding us a little more. Our sanctification (or perfecting) is being furthered. We are getting to be the first of the creation tasting what redemption is like. We are the first fruits of His creation. Now that is something about which we should rejoice.
Yes, trails are hard, and they are inevitable, but God is working in them for the good of His people. May we realize this purpose, yield to His working, and consider them all joy knowing our God works all things together for our good. He is such a good and merciful Father. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen.