It is easy for a person to feel that one’s problems are overwhelming. Sometimes, a person is met with problems so great that one is left wondering, “Where is God” or “why me”? Yet, the Scripture gives a bizarre look at difficulties. It is bizarre to the world because it requires a supernatural kind of intervention. James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote about enduring difficulties. His words bring great perspective on enduring difficulties and hardships.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Endurance
“Dear brothers and sisters,* when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4, NLT).
Have you ever heard of someone training to run a marathon? A person does not choose to run a marathon on Friday and run the marathon on Saturday unless the person has previous training. Many will train for weeks, months, or even up to a year to prepare for a marathon. A person slowly builds up one’s endurance by running a little longer each time. This training brings endurance. The same is true with the trials that occur. James shows us that God uses these difficulties to bring forth endurance to the believer’s life.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Wisdom
” If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5, NLT).
Knowledge and wisdom are similar, but different. A person can be extremely knowledgeable in that one knows numerous facts and figures while remaining unwise. Merriam-Webster defines “wisdom” as “abilities to discern inner qualities and relationships…exercising sound judgment…or, possessing inside information” (Merriam-Webster, “wisdom,” “wise”). The last definition is telling. The person with sound judgment normally has inside information…that inside information comes from God. The Greek word used is “σοφία” (sophia). “Sophia” is defined as, “the intelligence evinced in discovering the meaning of some mysterious number or vision. skill in the management of affairs. devout and proper prudence in intercourse with men not disciples of Christ, skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth. the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living” (James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001). Although James shows that wisdom comes by asking, it is also developed through the process of enduring trials. I have heard many say, “If I could go back knowing what I know now, I would ________.” Surely God brings wisdom through our trials.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Loyalty
“But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” (James 1:6-8, NLT).
A friend who is also an enormous sports fan once said, “I can’t stand sports fans who change their favorite team according to who wins the championship each year.” He has a point. Can such a person really be called a devoted fan? The fact is; trials and tribulations force us to consider who it is in which we place our trust. Is it in other people? They will fail you. Is it in sports teams? They will eventually lose. Is it in a vehicle? It will eventually corrode. The only sure place that one’s trust can be placed in which disappointment will never occur, and faithlessness will never be found is in the Lord God Almighty. Difficulties have a way in directing our loyalty to the One whom deserves our loyalty.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Trust
“Believers who are* poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.” (James 1:9-11, NLT).
Do riches and good times bring trust? Well, consider the fact that people throughout history have strayed from God during the good times far more than they have during the bad times. When people have it nice and easy, discipleship wanes. This is especially true with the children of Israel. After Solomon’s days, Israel’s trust in God waned which eventually led to the division of the nation, the destruction of the northern part, and the exile of the southern part. God eventually brought prophets to speak to the problem of faithfulness.
The church has noticed a decline in attendance over the past century. But, have we also noticed that we have it better now than ever in the history of humanity? This is not true in all places in the world, but it is true in most “First World Nations.” The map below shows what is called “First World Nations” (in blue), “Second World Nations” (in red), and “Third World Nations” (in green). Consider this fact: the church is seeing the greatest decline in the nations listed in blue and seeing the greatest increase in nations listed in green and red. Do you see a correlation? Those nations listed in blue have it pretty nice. Yet, the Spirit of God is bringing great increase to the church in the fields of Africa, in the jungles of South America, tropical atmosphere of Korea, and the deserts of the Middle East. The Holy Spirit is moving so much, in fact, that the center of Christianity will no longer be found in the United States and Europe but in Africa, Asia, and South America. In other words, difficulties have a way in showing us where we need to place our trust. The richest is not always the happiest. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is true especially if God is in the equation.
Map from Wikipedia.org.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Character
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,* and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” (James 1: 12-15, NLT).
So much can be said of the previously listed text. But for now, it must be noted that trials and tribulations bring about character in one’s life. The person has a choice: allow character to be developed by trusting in God during the trials and tribulations, or allow sin to grow and develop which will lead to death. When difficulties and trials arise, it is amazing to see which direction the person chooses. Some deal with things much better than others. Some bounce back after a problem, while others marinate in the problem. Those who dwell on the issue will eventually allow the problem to destroy them. However, if trust in God is maintained, the difficulties can be allowed to bring forth character.
Enduring Difficulties Brings Christlikeness
“So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.* He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.* He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”* (James 1:16-18, NLT).
Did you know that if you are in Christ, you are a masterpiece? You are a prized possession. In other words, you matter!!! God is concerned about the most minute details of your life. This is difficult to fathom that that Creator of the universe would be concerned about one like me. But God is. All these traits lead us to Christlikeness. Christ, the embodiment of God come to earth, was perfect through and through. A Christian will never be perfect on this side of eternity…Lord knows that I keep a “God at Work” sign on my soul which shows that I have a looooong way to go…but, this should not keep us from striving for the mark found in the will of God.
Difficulties are indeed difficult. One thing we must remember is that as bad as we have it, there is always someone who has it perhaps a little bit worse than we do. It may be a different kind of load in which we may not be able to carry. As I recently interviewed Siv Ashley, I was amazed at her story of freedom in Christ from her sins and from the evil regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. I do not know how she was, and is, able to keep her optimistic spirit. But, she does through the power of Christ. I leave you with one final verse which will hopefully help you in your time of need. Paul writes, “For I can do everything through Christ,* who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NLT). Keep holding on to your source of strength: Christ Jesus.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).