Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be made bitter from their trials while others seem to be made better? Bitter or better, which will it be for us through our trials?
The New Testament book of James offers some help on this as it urges: “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).
James, leader in the Jerusalem church, tells of a way of facing trials that can actually make us better and “complete, lacking in nothing”. Notice that James says “whenever” you face trials; he does not say “if” you face trials. We can assume that, this side of heaven, we are going to face all trials. But James is saying that whenever we do, we must not assume that we are being punished or slammed by calamity. We must not think the worst. Rather, he says, we are to “consider it nothing but joy.”
The Greek word hegeomai, translated “consider”, speaks of a mental process, a way of thinking. Rather than just reacting emotionally, we give our trials serious thought. That means we stop and regard our trials as nothing but joy, because we know that trials are making something of us. Trials can be met with joy because we know that under God’s hand every trial can make us better. It does not mean that we are masochists who enjoy pain, rather, we know that trials always produce something beautiful in us as we meet them with joy. Trials will make us better, not bitter.
James notes the “testing of your faith produces endurance.” The trials of life can stretch our faith to the limit, testing our faith in God’s goodness and love for us. We “consider” that the trials are actually making us better. Or, as James says, the testing of our faith “produces endurance.” The Greek word translated “endurance” is hupomone, meaning “to remain under” (hupo “under” + mone “to remain or dwell”). Hupomone has the idea of remaining under pressure and trial and not cutting and running, or bailing out. When the going gets tough, we hang in there trusting God. Then James asks that we “let endurance have its full effect.” That is, we let endurance play out making us “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Follow James’ thought here. We meet life’s trials with a joyful attitude, knowing the good that trials produce in us. The endurance of faith makes us mature, complete, and lacking in nothing that is truly good for us. That is the wonder of trials met with joy and not bitterness: We consider that God will use the trials to make us better.
The trials you are facing are not a punishment, nor a calamity. Rather, a wise and loving Father is using them to polish you, to refine you, to answer your prayer to be more like Jesus. You will be better not bitter, and on top of that, a great blessing to others.
Name and reflect on the thoughts and feelings today’s reading stirs in you. Take a few moments to talk with God about them.