[James 1:2-4 NKJV] My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
I used to think that this was the craziest notion that God had ever thought of, joy in the midst of trying times. Peace, maybe, but joy was a bit of a stretch as far as I was concerned. How could anyone have joy when they were struggling?
There are numerous occasions throughout the Bible where God explains that trials have purpose in our lives. If we had no trying times, there would be no opportunities for grow and maturity. We would not have diamonds if coal did not undergo great amounts of pressure. We would not have pearls if clams did not endure the irritation of sand. And note that, in both scenarios, the precious outcome requires both discomfort and a lapse of time. But I will address that in a minute.
[Romans 5:3-5 NKJV] And not only [that], but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Hope is such an important piece of the human experience. There are so many walking the earth, searching for hope, and others who have given up on having hope. Hope is huge. But the truth is that hope is found in the moments when you realize that you survived something that you didn’t believe you would– that situation that you didn’t think you would make it out of, the relationship that you thought would rob you of all your life force and motivation to move forward, that job situation that you thought that you would be stuck in forever, etc. You know that situation or circumstance or life-altering tragedy that you never thought you would come out of the other side, but you did, by the grace of God. I guarantee that, if you think about it for a moment, you will discover that it created a renewed sense of hope and you were able to look again toward the future. I know that “glorying in tribulation” sounds crazy, because I have been through some situations I was convinced that I would never be able to “glory” in, but now I realize that the glory that I found in the press of the moment was the growth that was achieved as a result of going through that particular trial. Some boundaries had to be tested, some preconceived notions deconstructed, and some walls had to be torn down. I am better for the hard and dark times that God had to allow to happen in my life journey.
Paul relays an encounter with God where he was intentionally afflicted in order to keep him humble. And when he asked the Lord to remove this “annoyance”, if you will, God’s answer was simple – “My grace is sufficient.”
[2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV] So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Sometimes, the point of a trying season is to keep you humble. We have times where we get comfortable where we are, and we get complacent and we begin to believe, as William Ernest Henley writes in Invictus, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” But nothing could be further from the truth. It sounds wonderful – empowering, bold, and courageous. But it is simply not true. And, for those of us who “love the Lord and are called according to His purpose” (see Romans 8:28), we know that our Creator is really the one who is Master and Commander. So, when we get full of ourselves and forget the grace and goodness of our Savior, we ought to expect that something is going to happen to remind us just how much we are not in charge. Just like the child who talks out of turn to their parent, we are gently (or not so gently) reminded of who is in charge and we are humbled.
Now, growth is the other outcome of trials that can ultimately bring us joy. But growth takes time. Acorns don’t grow into mighty oak trees overnight. Clams do not produce pearls instantaneously, nor does a lump of coal spontaneously become a diamond. Such things take time and effort and endurance. We are often mistaken when we think that the precious character traits that make us mature adults and mature believers are manifested instantly. The most misunderstood concept in the human experience is the valley experience. We always want to be delivered from the hard times in our lives, instead of asking for the strength to get through them. We miss the purpose of the valley experience. There can be no mountain encounters without the valleys leading up to them. In the same way, there can be no achievement of growth unless we patiently endure the hard times that will produce said growth. This is a hard pill to swallow for many, because we dislike discomfort. I’m not really sure that there are many people to genuinely enjoy being uncomfortable, but enduring discomfort is the key to achieving growth. The hardest thing to do when we are being pressed is to choose to seek the lesson instead of simply asking the knee-jerk question: “Why me?” I can hear God replying, “Why not you?” Once you accept an embrace the fact that every hard encounter bears the opportunity to learn and grow, each experience becomes a little less uncomfortable. I am not suggesting that you will no longer experience pain and heartache in those valley experiences. What I am postulating is that, instead of fighting against the learning opportunity and creating more pain and heartache for yourself, it can become a slightly more bearable encounter because you have chosen to accept the lesson that is being taught. Being teachable makes for an incredible life journey. It makes life an adventure!
So take some time this holiday season to find joy in the experiences in your past that have made you grow. And, if you cannot find joy, find the lesson that you didn’t learn and do your best to learn and grow so that it can become a source of joy and hope and encouragement for the journey, instead of a thorn in your side that causes you pain every time you think about it or reminded of it. Love and blessings to all!