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My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

As I was growing up, I thought my father the smartest man in the world. I could never figure out how my dad knew everything he knew. How did he know what to do about boll weevil in the cotton, or how many miles it was to Prescott, or what to do when I was in trouble? I thought my dad knew everything, until one day he told me something that really made me wonder.

It happened when I got my first pocketknife. I remember proudly going over every bit of the knife, rubbing my forefinger along the glistening smooth blade. Then I saw on the blade words that I’d never seen before: “Tempered Steel”. I didn’t know what tempered steel was, but was sure that my dad would know. When I asked him he told me that tempered steel meant that they had made the steel stronger by putting it through fire. That just didn’t make any sense to me at all! How do you make something stronger by putting it through fire! Wouldn’t that destroy it?

Herbert Samuel Mallory, in his English historical novel Tempered Steel: A Romance, likens the tempering of a steel sword to the tempering of the soul:

Thin strips of metal, with a secret powder placed between, are heated in a furnace, drawn and twisted, hammered and folded many times. Last of all the steel is tempered so that strength and hardness grow tenfold, while yet the blade is bent like a bow and will spring to perfect form again.

Today’s Scripture also likens the tempering of souls to the trials that hammer and twist us. The text tells us that these trials we fear will destroy us will in time actually make us stronger and better. James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and no stranger to trials, counsels suffering Christians: “to consider it nothing but joy” when they “face trials of any kind”. James then gives reason for rejoicing in our trials: because of what the trials are accomplishing within us. By going through these fiery trials we will be “mature and complete, lacking in nothing”.

James’ Christian brother, Paul, joins him in also encouraging us to rejoice in our sufferings because of their tempering power:

We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit God that has been given to us.—Romans 5:3-5

Note carefully the steps that Paul outlines in our tempering process:

suffering → endurance
endurance → character
character → hope

Here is the mystery of the tempering process: that out of our sufferings and trials God is making us into people of character and hope. And our hope and optimism for the future will never fail us or disappoint, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that God has given us”.

My dad is still the smartest man I’ve ever known!

Grace and peace,

photo by Drake S. Withers

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