How problems become blessings 

Book of James

James, Part 2

My brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, consider it all joy because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
James 1:2–4

The Book of James was written by the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem and addressed to Christians who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They were being persecuted by both the Gentiles and the Jews, and many struggled to remain faithful.

James opens his letter with encouraging words about the benefits of trials and tribulations. He mentions three universally known facts about problems (they are unavoidable, unpredictable, and come in all shapes and sizes), and a fourth truth that many never learn: problems can help us become spiritually mature.

  • In verse 3, James says that trials have the potential to bless us in two ways: they can purify our faith, and they can help us develop steadfastness, the ability to hold up under pressure.
  • In verse 4, he tells us the result of the process: we will arrive at a place where we are “lacking in nothing.” Who doesn’t want to be there?

James uses two words to describe the place where we will be lacking in nothing. One is the word translated “complete.” Holokleoroi means “fully developed in every part.” It’s about wholeness and integrity. Most of us have the tendency to compartmentalize our life so that we can justify our being outside God’s will in one area because we are serving him in another. We rationalize. “Yes, my sex life is out of bounds, but I also do lots of good stuff to help people in need.” It’s like we envision God on the judgment seat holding a big scale to weigh our good and bad deeds. But that is not the picture we get from the Bible. God calls us to grow in integrity, every part of our life reflecting the whole.

Behind this concept of completeness is the second word James uses. Older versions of the Bible often translate it as “perfect,” while newer translations favor the word, “mature.” The Greek word is teleios, and it is used twice in verse 4 (KJV, “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect”). It is a word that speaks to process–when something is teleios, it is in the process of accomplishing what it was created for. When an acorn is buried in the ground and grows into an oak tree, it is teleios–it is accomplishing the purpose it was created for.

James says that when we trust Jesus and live the way he prescribes, we are teleioi kai holokleoroi–we are becoming mature and complete. We are being transformed into the men and women God created us to be.

This is all well and good, but how does it translate into the ability to be joyful during hard times? Am I to rejoice because I lost my job or was diagnosed with cancer? This is an important question, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 is a good companion passage: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul is not saying that we are to thank God for rapes and murders and other evils. He says we are to thank God in all circumstances–not for all circumstances.

We can do that because we know that all things, even the worst imaginable, can be used by God to bless us (Romans 8:28). Most of us have the tendency to become forensic when problems arise, and sometimes it can be helpful to identify the source of a difficulty, but we must never forget that God can redeem any situation.

How do we develop the ability to be joyous in any and all circumstances? 

We change our attitude about who God is and who we are in Christ. 

In verse 2, we are told to “consider it all joy” when difficulties arise. The word translated “consider” means to carefully evaluate something and make a choice. We will choose to rejoice… or not. Last year I was diagnosed with cancer, and a lot of people asked me how I remained so upbeat when faced with such a grim prognosis. I told folks that it was easy to have a positive attitude because I’m convinced that everything that happens to me will ultimately work out for my good.

Now, is that true for everyone? No, it is not. It is only true for those who believe that passages like James 1:2–4, Romans 8:28, and John 11:26 are more than just pretty words. For everyone else, problems are seen as something to avoid like the plague. Problems are perceived as blessings only by those who trust God completely, and no one can have that attitude 24/7. Even the most faithful followers are like the guy who told Jesus, “I believe, but help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

One of the biggest mistakes we can make when having problems is to ask, “Why this? Why now? Why me?” All these whys are a waste of time. God has already told us why we are going through them: they help us grow up spiritually. They are part of the process by which God conforms us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

The question we need to ask is not why? but what?

“What is God wanting to teach me through this problem?”

And those who love the Lord can be sure that he will never forsake them. When God closes one door in your life, he will open another, so instead of throwing up a bunch of questions and complaints, simply walk through the door and trust that the Lord has provided a better way.

Which is not to say that the door God opens will lead to a more comfortable life. It may, but please understand that your heavenly Father is more interested in developing your character than in providing for your comfort. The door God opens may not always be the door to an easier life, but it will always be the way to a more Christlike life.

Next: the antidote for confusion

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