“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
The book of James in the New Testament of the Bible was written to a group of Christians struggling to make their way far from their land of origin in an alien country. If you put yourself in the position of these Jewish Christian refugees, leading off with this kind of an exhortation seems a bit over the top. Telling them to consider their situation as pure joy is a really hard pill to swallow. I am not sure what the believers were thinking when they first heard this from James, but they must have thought the guy was crazy. These are people who have experienced not only hard things, but have felt the brunt of living in a broken and fallen world. To tell hungry families with no wealth or status who were wondering where their next meal is coming from that they ought to consider their situation as pure joy may seem strange, even calloused.
But James was looking to fortify the believers with some important truth. When we get a cut or a laceration, the first thing that needs to happen is to apply peroxide to the wound so that there will be no infection that results from the injury. It might seem insensitive because to get peroxide in an open wound stings like nothing else. But it has to happen. It is a necessary part of the coping and healing. James actually cared enough about the people to tell them what they absolutely needed to hear right up front. Without a positive, godly, and wise perspective on their situation, they would not make it. Infection would set in and destroy the fledgling church.
Suffering in the form of spiritual peroxide is absolutely necessary. To just say what itching ears want to hear helps no one. Suffering is a significant part of the Christian life. God never promised anywhere in the Bible that life would be and should be all bunnies and unicorns. In fact, he promised just the opposite – that everyone who wants to live for Jesus in this present broken world will have a hard time. It is not a matter if you will face the testing of your faith; it is a matter of whenever you face trials.
But the good news is that through the adversity God is producing in his people patient endurance, which is necessary to the development of our faith. We can only become mature Christians through adversity, by having our faith tested in the crucible of hard circumstances.
Faith is not a neutral or static thing. Faith is an active dynamic thing that is always either developing or degenerating. Without spiritual peroxide, faith will degenerate and become putrid. Eventually, gangrene will set in and something will have to be amputated. If you do not want to experience that, then we will need to learn how to experience joy in the middle of hard things.
It seems to me that one of the tragedy of today’s American church is that we can live a trivial, blasé, and superficial existence as believers in Jesus Christ and get away with it because we have the ability to be independent, self-sufficient, and hold our own. We don’t really need the church. We say we need God, but then turn around and live our lives as if he isn’t even there. The peroxide that we need in our lives for this day and for this time is that we are doing everything but exercising spiritual disciplines that would put us in touch with Jesus. Church is optional. Reading our Bibles is not a matter of life and death. Prayer only happens if I want or need something, and is not a means of connecting with Jesus. Giving and service happens if I have any discretionary time and money.
The Christian life was not meant to be easy! It is challenging, it is hard; and, in the middle of that it can be invigorating and joyful. Yes, joyful. This is where our brothers and sisters throughout the world who undergo adversity to their faith every day can teach us. Americans might have the money, but others have a unique spiritual depth of faith forged in the fires of resistance to governments and cultures that actively put them to the test. And, despite their hardship, many know the joy of living for Jesus, while far too many in the West live dull depressed lives devoid of real faith. Let us pray boldly for one another so that together we can realize a genuine faith in Christ that glorifies God and edifies his church.