Meditations in James: 8 : Persevering under Trial
Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
The temptation to give up is a common one. It arises when we have stepped out in some new venture and it doesn’t seem to be working out quite as we thought. All of our early enthusiasm seems to have melted away in the face of struggles, and thoughts of giving up float into our mind. When that new venture was a new area of learning, again we might have started out with great enthusiasm, relishing the picture of us obtaining new knowledge and new understanding. I’ve done it with a new language and I’ve envisaged speaking fluently to other peoples. It could be a whole range of learning experiences. When we heard about the course, its newness excited us and we thought, “I could do that” and then, after the first few lessons, we thought, “This is hard work!” Then we were required to do extra reading and at the end of the day you found yourself reading the same paragraph over and over, wondering whatever it meant. Then there was the homework, the assignments that needed to be in by a certain day, and suddenly it is pure hard graft, and you wondered about the wisdom of having started it, and you wondered about giving up. Going to the gymnasium to start a keep-fit regime is just as bad. You hear others telling enthusiastically how much healthier they feel and so you enrol and the first workout was exhilarating but then came the aching muscles the next day. Next time wasn’t quite so exciting and the thought of aching muscles seemed to bring them on. You began to wonder if it was worthwhile, you begin to wonder about giving up.
Now all of these examples have similar characteristics. There is the flush of early excitement, the growing awareness that effort is required, the sense that this is really hard and the wonderings about giving up. It is at this point that perseverance comes in. As we noted in an earlier meditation: perseverance is the act of keeping going. But it is more than the physical act; it is the act of will, the determination not to give up. Now all of this first part of James’ letter is about surviving in this sin-weary world, especially when the going gets hard, especially when you are in the midst of a trial – life not going as you think it should. In those circumstances you start getting tired, in those circumstances you start thinking about giving up. In the midst of such times you can feel quite down. Physical weariness is often accompanied by emotional weariness. You can read all the verses but all you are aware of is a weariness and a desire to escape. If you are a Christian leader it is very likely that you will have gone through times (note the plural!) when you have felt like giving it all up and retiring somewhere quiet, where you have no responsibilities, no people criticizing you, no ungrateful people after you have poured out your life to them. Oh yes, Christians are just as vulnerable to these feelings as the rest of the world, if not more so.
Now why should that be? Well, the apostle Paul knew a thing or to about this stuff when he wrote, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph 6:13). Let’s not focus on the armour, focus on what he says it enables us to do: to stand. Imagine your Christian life is like a plot of ground that you have inherited and it is wonderful. The land all around it is horrible. What is Satan’s desire? To push you off that ground, to relinquish your inheritance. He will do it by whispering or shouting lies at you to make you believe things that aren’t true and forget the things that are true. He will whisper or shout temptations at you to make you think the grass is greener off this patch you have inherited, and seeks to get you to step off this holy land into things that are unclean, impure, or generally unrighteous. If the trial is severe then he even has the capability of bringing physical or emotional or mental upheavals. Oh yes, read Job and you will see his capabilities, but if you do read Job see Satan is only allowed to go as far as God allows him to.
And there we have gone the full circle. This trial is a test! Tests are made for you to pass them. God cheats, He gives you help! He is there with you in the middle of it to help you. His grace is available to you in a variety of forms. Oh yes, it is a test and a hard one at that, but God is doing everything He can to help you pass it. Part of the test is ALWAYS how long will it take for you to turn to Him for help, how long will you keep on asking for help? That’s where perseverance comes in.
This is where the famous quote from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego comes in: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:17,18), i.e. we’re going to trust God to turn up, but even if He doesn’t, we know the right thing to do and we’re going to carry on doing it! And of course the Lord turned up.
There is a glorious end to this, the promise of a crown of life. What is a crown? A symbol of a ruler. The reward for passing the test is that we are made rulers over life by God, given the ability to go through life, living it to the utmost with love, joy peace etc., ruling over the circumstances, being in control rather than being oppressed and driven by the circumstances. You are in the driving seat! May it be so as you and your Lord persevere and triumph through the present trial, whatever it may involve!