My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon. — Japanese poet Masahide
The advice of James in the first century translates very well into a 21st century offers the same challenges.
"As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. As an example of patience in the face of suffering, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Or think of Job’s perseverance, and what the Lord finally brought about for him. There are people teaching you falsely about the character of God as it relates to trials, temptations, and suffering. Don’t be misled and deceived. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who shines His light on you. He does not change like shifting shadows. God gave us life through His word of truth, that we might be the beginning of a new kind of creature – his most important and prized possessions.
Be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains? You too should be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return, when you will finally be delivered from all of these hardships. Stand firm, and don’t give up hope; His coming – and your deliverance and reward - is near." (compiled from James 1 and 5)
Persecution around the world is still a very real part of the Christian experience. 2011 was not a kind year. From the LA Times:
“At least 21 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in Egypt in a suspected suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria as worshippers left a new year service….”
“Hundreds of nomadic Fulani herdsmen launched coordinated attacks on three Christian villages—Dogo Nahawa, Ratsat and Zot, just south of Jos—about 3 a.m. Sunday. Reports on the death toll differed wildly, with some placing it at about 200 and others reporting 528 killed and thousands injured. The killers planted nets and animal traps outside the huts of the villagers, mainly peasant farmers, fired weapons in the air, then attacked with machetes…”
In the West, we don’t face this kind of persecution. We are blessed to live in a country where not hearing “Merry Christmas” at Walmart makes the news. That may reflect a change in our culture which may one day bring us to a point of more overt hostility, but it's not suffering.
We live in a culture where we face temptation for things that are hostile to our faith. All around we see and hear compelling stories of lust, greed, selfishness, and rebellion. This does not make America unusual, but it does make America difficult. The most beautiful and the most popular among us glorify lifestyles that certainly tempt us to participate.
A trial is something in our life that causes us discomfort– physical or emotional. It is something we have to suffer through rather than enjoy. These are not things that tempt us to sin, but rather things that can refine us. Trials can be sent by God. David wrote in Psalms 66:8-12 (NIV):
” Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance
There are other sources for trials too. We face the daunting challenge of living in a world in which Satan is like a ravenous lion ; a world in which “all of creation groans as it waits for redemption”; and a world in which we make bad decisions and just have to “reap what we sow.”
Sometimes, the source of our trials are obvious.If I need a new car because mine has broken down after 500,000 miles and its just run down or Michigan happens to win a bowl game, that’s just life as “creation groans”. If I don’t study and I fail a class, that’s my fault. Sometimes, the source can be tough to gauge. David says he went through prison and “fire and water” because God tested him.
Here’s where James’ advice to see the big picture is important. I can’t always see the reasons for the situations in my life. In fact, I might often misunderstand what’s going on.
- My car breaks down (bad)…I miss an interstate pile-up (good)
- My girlfriend dumps me (bad)…I find real love (good)
- I lost my job (bad)…a better job opens up (good)
James does not spend time talking about if trials and temptations come. Though he explains why we sin, He doesn’t spend time talking about why we have trials. That just seems to go with the territory of being alive (for general trials) and being a follower of Christ (for trials we face because we are Christians). The main question is not if or why, but what is God doing in the midst of it?
Our joy will not come from knowing what started our trials; our joy will come from seeing what God can do with them.