Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Joyful in Trials

Trials, difficulties, challenges, confrontations, IRS audits, economic meltdown, out of control kids, unemployment, persecution, etc., etc., etc..  None of us are immune to the difficulties of life.  And it oftentimes seems like being a Christian only makes things worse. How should I respond to the rocks that life throws at me?

James has something to say about this in his letter to Christian Jews scattered around the Roman world, who were also having rocks thrown at them.  But his message to them, and to us, can be pretty hard to swallow.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. - James 1:2-4 HCSB
Respond to trials with joy?  Sounds crazy doesn't it.  That actually sounds like a response that should get us locked up in a padded cell as a masochist.  But before you pass off James guidance as foolishness, take a closer look at what he is telling us.

How do I respond to trials?  I could see in them the end of a dream, an overwhelming obstacle, or a painful experience.  Or, as a Christ follower, I could choose to respond in faith.  In faith, I believe that God cares about me, and that he is working to perfect me.  In faith, I can choose to believe that God will take this trial and use it to draw me closer to him, making me more dependent on him, and further develop me as a disciple.  Through faith, I can develop endurance, the ability to continue through the trial without being discouraged and giving up.

And at the end of endurance is maturity, becoming what I was created to be.  The trials I go through are not fun, and nowhere am I called on to enjoy them.  But they will be used by God in my development, if I respond in faith.  And so, knowing what the trials can produce in my life, I can respond joyfully; not joy because of the trial, but joy in what they can produce in me.

I run.  I am not particularly fast, and will likely never win a race with many competitors.  And, for me at least, running is not the funnest thing I do in a day.  My legs get tired, I huff and puff, my feet get sore, I have to dodge cars, and it can be a real mental struggle to continue.  So why do I continue; why run when watching TV is so much easier?  Because of that these "trials" produce.  I am in better physical condition than most 60 year old men. I can mostly eat what I want without worry. I can go out on long distance hikes and enjoy the creation.  And I just feel better.  I take joy in what the trials of running produce in me.

James calls on me to do the same thing with the trials of life.  Take joy in what the testing of your faith will accomplish.  Take joy in your spiritual development and maturity.  Dare to confound the world around you when you respond with a joyful attitude to the inevitable trials of life.

2 comments:

  1. Great analogy to running.
    I have only completed half-marathons to this point in my life, but still it was as much a big mental challenge as it was a physical one the first time I tried. Interestingly that first time out... at about the 10 mile point I mentally told myself that I needed to stop and walk for a bit. Oddly, when I tried to do that I almost fell because while my mind said STOP... my body (which had been running for 10 miles) just kept going. All I can figure is that my muscles at that point were in automatic. They were so used to the repetitive motion that they carried me along, albeit at a slower pace. Could it also be that if I "exercise" my faith faithfully, even in troubled times, that I will sort of automatically continue even when stress or pressures come my way? Ideally, shouldn't this be part of our Christian "conditioning"? Easier said than done. Sure, but with practice... easier the more you do it. Note to self -- now go forth and put this into practice in an ever increasing way.
    More recently the same mental game came into play while hiking a portion of the PCT. Physically demanding -- yes. Mentally challenging -- yes. Still I knew to push through and just keep going. Besides... what option did I have?! As I would then realize that I would make it through this, there was a time or two that I caught myself laughing (to myself) at my situation. My hope came in knowing that there was rest coming at the end of the day at camp or upon exiting the trail. Also, I was not alone on the trail so even without words being spoken, I could leverage the strength of my hiking partner as encouragement for myself. When the day's challenge was over, I was glad to have gone through it and glad to have had support.
    Running or hiking I can carry myself along all the better through the support that I have from others and in hope of knowing through this momentary pain there is gain.
    I will be wise to remember this the next time I need to push onward when I'm on the trail, the road, the rower, etc.
    Likewise with Christ in life I have been blessed to remember how He was there for me in past struggles as I face new ones today! I thank God that He is consistent and reliable.
    My hope is in the Lord.

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    1. I believe the "practice makes perfect" expression is applicable to this. The more we practice joy in our trials, the more natural it will become.

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