faith must be challenged

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

James emphasizes that knowledge and profession of faith mean nothing at all, in fact, lend themselves to deception. And in this opening part of his letter, that faith actually has to be challenged to make the needed difference in our lives.

We often get out of sorts if things are not going wonderfully well, or when the bad comes. But a big part of life is learning by faith to walk through trials of all kinds which come our way pretty much everyday, and at least on a regular basis. Some of them might be imagined, and some real. But the point James makes here is our response to them. We’re to count it all joy, or nothing but joy when they come, because of what they can bring, if we are open to what God wants to do through them.

Maturity in the faith, in Christ, is not something to which we easily arrive. It requires effort on our part to hang in their through the difficulty, not allowing ourselves to be moved from our faith, but letting it be tested. Just what kind of faith do we have? Is it merely circumstantial, just good when things are going well? Or is it grounded in God, even when we don’t understand, or find it going against our understanding, or at least against what we think is good or acceptable.

God wants to work something quite good out of it. So it’s up to us to be willing to walk through it, to endure it, trusting God is at work in it for good, for our good to help us mature completely, so that we may lack nothing when it comes to what really matters: our Christian formation and character. In and through Jesus.

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a key part of enduring: accept

Yesterday’s post was about enduring when our faith is tested. A key and important aspect of such endurance, it seems to me, faith being a given, is simply to learn to accept whatever place one finds themselves in, including the trial itself.

One of the most difficult aspects of trials is often our resistance to them. We want to escape anyway possible, to be rid of it, and we often imagine the worst. Instead of committing ourselves to God’s care and working, and willingly walking through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are happy about the trial itself. Our happiness in the midst of it is solely in the realization that God is at work both to bless us, and make us a blessing to others. Oftentimes God’s work of character development in us toward the image of Christ, along with his work for the good of others is occurring. What is important for us is to hold on in faith. And a part of that, of our trust in God, is to simply accept the experience, with all its hard knocks and difficulties. And both the external, as well as internal facets of it.

I have often found that it’s not long before a sense of resolution either in movement, or even finality sets in. Usually my own experience in this is that my reaction is worse than the problem itself, often one of anxiety and fear. Or just feeling numb from it all.

So we’re called not only to wait in persevering in endurance in the trial. But to accept everything, believing that God is at work in it in ourselves, and in the situation, for our good and the good of others. In and through Jesus.

our part under trial: endurance

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

James tells us a bit earlier that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or endurance. A big part of that testing is simply remaining faithful in the trial.

As someone once told me, struggling is the default or norm in which we live. That’s why it’s nice to get away from time to time on a vacation with no cares in the world. And while “there’s no place like home,” there are always concerns, sometimes big that can well weigh us down. And some of those can seem well over our head, unmanageable, and in need of divine intervention. Actually we want the Lord’s help, and need it, whether the trial seems big or small.

James’s readers were facing problems from those who were wealthy (James 5). And James in the more immediate context referred to “trials of many kinds.” What is important for us is to remain faithful, and be willing to endure. Endurance is not something in and of itself enjoyable. We would rather escape. Yes, we’re to persevere, but endurance might seem to hit James’s thought in this letter more squarely for me, though to persevere is involved in that, as well. It seems like patience, and hanging in their through the tough times with faith in God is the point here.

And we have another promise from another book of wisdom, considered the basic book of wisdom in scripture: Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

In the midst of trials, we need to trust and obey. In submission to the One who will see us through to the end. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind and heart

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Usually when I turn to this passage, which naturally I know quite well by now, it’s when I’m already lost in anxiety or worry over something. And that’s quite alright and good. We need to go to such promises as this when we’re struggling, or not doing well. But what if we could apply this passage in such a way as to simply avoid worry and anxiety altogether? Or more realistically keep growing toward that ideal, so that any lapse would be short lived, and increasingly rare.

Easier said than done. But words are where we start. And the Word (John 1). Scripture which points us to Christ and the gospel. But the importance of the specifics in scripture should not be minimized.

Trying to apply the passage above means that whenever something happens which might cause anxiety, immediately we bring it to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Praying as best we can, but looking to God for the answer. And more importantly, simply resting in God, or more precisely, as it says, in God’s peace, which surpasses and transcends, or is greater than our understanding, or all understanding, for that matter. To have our hearts and minds guarded in Christ Jesus is what more and more should be the norm for us. But we have to keep bringing the concerns that come our way to God in prayer. And in a sense we can say, leave them there. In and through Jesus.

our Father will take care of it

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6

Anyone who knows me well knows I can be prone to worry. Although I’ve come a long way in overcoming it, mostly by dealing with it much better. But also by being in the word, in scripture, which helps prevent its onset since our minds are occupied elsewhere. And where they’re occupied when we’re in scripture is in terms of God’s will, which is actually good, and in terms of the real world in which we live, which is wonderful, yet also fraught with danger and death, not to mention degradation.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount can help us with the realization that our lives are in the Father’s hands (link above). God will let nothing pass through other than that which he allows. And there honestly is mystery in that. Why are some beset with problems, and at times, even disasters, while others seem to live long, relatively trouble free lives? We don’t know, but we have to trust that God will work good out of what always will be evil. And that God redeems, and can indeed rescue. We pray, and ask God for his help for ourselves and others. And above all, we seek to entrust ourselves, our lives, our all, and especially our loved ones into the tender hands of the Father’s care. In and through Jesus.

the call to prayer

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 42

Sometimes there is nothing we can do, but groan. When life seems overwhelming, and we’re at a complete loss to know what to do. Or when we lose hope, or are near despair. When some things make sense, but others make no sense at all.

God would help us during such times to simply be still and quiet before him. Yes, to cry out to him. But above all to be in the kind of prayer that is looking to God for what might be said, or probably better yet, what God could put on our hearts, even write on them.

The Spirit is present in and through Jesus to help us. Individually and together. To seek and find God’s good will for us, and for others. In the love of God that is always and forever present no matter what, in and through Jesus.

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8

in the trouble zone

“Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.”

Job 14:1

There is much to ponder and take in from the wisdom of Job. I’m thinking of the book as a whole, but Job’s words here are observant, to say the least. It seems like the goal of most people and much of the advertisement which appeals to us is to arrive to some kind of trouble free existence. But no matter how far science and technology may take us, as well as knowledge that no doubt can help, trouble really awaits us at every turn.

Probably half the battle for us is to accept that reality up front, and learn in a sense to relax in it. Some matters aren’t worth the time of day, nagging problems which we might or might not address at some time, maybe if we’re annoyed enough. But other issues we will be compelled to consider and work on with the knowledge that we may or may not be able to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion except to leave it in God’s hands.

As one work friend used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Basically that’s all we can do. We have to stop thinking the world, or any given matter in it depends on us at all. It’s not like we may not have a role to play, but its outcome is ultimately up to God. That said, we should do what we can to resolve the problems which come our way. And the way everything is, the “honey do” list, or whatever you might call it, will never end. Instead of denying all of this, and retreating into either a disengagement, or even denial of trouble, we should face it. Believing that God can and will give us the wisdom to address it (James 1:2-5). And that the process will even be good. In and through Jesus.