"the Christian life is harder than what I envisioned."
I was speaking to a friend of mine about a difficult time he was going through and he said something that gave me a little bit of a pause. He said he felt like ever since he became a Christian, his life has been one trial after another.
I empathized with his frustration and patiently allowed him to finish, but I pushed back a little and challenged him on his assertion. Being that I knew his background and some of his life before he came to faith in Christ, [I felt comfortable saying this], but I asked, “Is it possible that the trajectory of your life was headed toward these difficult trials ANYWAY, but in God’s mercy, He chose to call you to saving faith in Jesus Christ now so you wouldn’t go through it on your own?”
It was his turn to take a bit of a pause.
The NOT-SO-FUN truth is, trials are, and have always been part and parcel of the Christian life!
In John 16:33 (NLT), Jesus says, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” What I wish he had said was, “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, [I gotchu! Nothing bad will ever happen, and if one trial manages to slip through, I’ll be Johnny-on-the-spot to get you out of it!]”
But that’s NOT what He says, right? Instead, He simply reassures His followers that in spite of the inevitable hardship they would face in this world, He would (and is) sovereignly in control of all human and spiritual affairs that will take place in this world and they needed to take comfort in THAT promise. So what are you and I to do on those inevitable horrible, no-good, really bad seasons of our life where it seems and feels like life has released its own version of the Kraken on us?
It's to this issue that James 1:2-8 speaks to: ” Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
Considering what Jesus said earlier about trials and sorrows we would experience in this life and what James just said - if we were to wring out this passage, here’s the big idea we would get out of it:
THE WAY OUT OF A TRIAL IS THROUGH IT.
Why "through" it? Because of what God will produce in you IN it.
Here’s the not-so-pretty reality of the Christian life. You WILL have hard days/seasons that will pop up at the most inopportune time! .... and not just one-time either! (which is why James uses the plural in verse 2 - “trials of many kinds.”)
So this means some of the trials you will face will be physical (perhaps a health issue), some will be financial, some will be emotional, some will be relational + marital, and some will be mental. Some of your trials will be the consequence of your own unwise actions, some of it will be the repercussions of someone else’s sinful actions [because we live in a sucky sinful broken world], and then some of it will be because you’re experiencing spiritual opposition from Satan and his gang. “Trials of many kinds.”
Experience tells me that that part of the Christian life is not a shock to most Christians. What IS a shock, however, is what James says next in verse 2:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds”
Really? PURE Joy?
Okay, let’s just agree that “joy” is the last emotion one would associate with a trial, right? Some of you are like, “I think James misspelled the word, ‘despair!’”
So let’s talk real quick about what James is NOT saying here. James is NOT saying that when you’re experiencing hardship and difficulty in your life, that you should be happy and perky because Jesus is full of joy! "Counting it all joy” doesn’t mean, if you get hit by a bus, you should go, "Well, at least it wasn't a truck! Oh Joy!!”
James isn’t saying we should be happy and cheerful during trials. NO. Happiness is different from joy. Happiness is a response to your circumstance.
- If you go in to work tomorrow and find out [instead of getting fired] you’re getting a raise or a promotion, that’s happiness.
- If someone you have a crush on tells you they like you back, that’s happiness.
- If I get home today, and my wife decides we’re having lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, THAT. IS. PURE. HAPPINESS, my friends! Praise God and HalleluYER!
Joy, however, has NOTHING to do with your circumstance. Joy is IN SPITE of your circumstance! Joy is the experience of knowing that your Father in heaven is present with you even in the worst of trials, guiding and leading you to His intended destination.
Remember, Jesus? "[who] …For the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” - (Hebrews 12:22)." If you've ever seen pictures of the crucifixion, you know that there is nothing about it that produces anything slightly close to feelings of elation. In fact, on the evening He's arrested before the crucifixion, Jesus is so distressed that he literally starts sweating drops of blood. YET, He endured all that suffering WITH GREAT JOY! Why? Not because of the experience of it, but because His eyes were on the bigger prize, the redemption of lost people (you and I).
So, joy in our trials is not a matter of feelings, but a matter of the will. I CHOOSE to be joyful in my trials because of HIM who stands BESIDE me IN it and because of what HE will accomplish in me THROUGH it, which brings us to THE FIRST PRODUCT that God produces in us through trials:
#1. TRIALS WILL PRODUCE IN YOU A SPIRITUAL STICK-TO-IT-NESS.
When we first encounter a difficult trial in our lives, it can feel like an attack and our first inclination MAY BE to pray that WE GET OUT of it ASAP! But James is saying in v.3-4: “Hey, when a difficult trial comes [yes it’s fine to pray for God to rescue you from it], but understand that IT ALSO SERVES AS TEST, A REFINING PROCESS that produces in you perseverance and equips you with the godly-resolve you need for the next seasons of your life.”
That’s why he says in verse 4, “let perseverance finish its work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
That’s the idea of perseverance; it creates in us a spiritual sturdiness, a spiritual stick-to-it-ness, so that when you face another trial later in your faith, you already have everything you need to withstand it.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the rock of ages!”
So, here’s a good prayer to pray in the middle of a difficult trial you may be experiencing. “Lord God, use this difficult trial to produce godly character in my life. Strengthen my affections for you and mature my faith through this trial so that I am fully equipped with everything I need for whatever you have planned for me next.”
Remember the BIG IDEA: THE WAY OUT OF A TRIAL IS THROUGH IT, because in it, God will produce in you, perseverance.
#2. TRIALS WILL TRAIN YOU TO PRAY LIKE A JUGGERNAUT.
When I was around 10 years old growing up in Nigeria, I got caught in one of the worst storms of my life. It was around 8:30 at night and my parents sent me to pick up something from a local food mart about a mile from our house. While I was waiting for the lady to wrap up what I was purchasing, the wind began to pick up and pretty quickly, it started to drizzle. Naturally, I picked up my package and started racing back home.
If you don’t know about storms in Nigeria, they move fast, and when it pours, it comes down like a waterfall. Before I could get halfway back to our house, I started to get drenched, so I ducked into someone’s open balcony, and just as I did, the electrical power all over town went out.
So, picture it. I'm a 10 year old kid, outdoors on a dark stormy night with the wind howling my name (not to mention the terrifying lightning). I don’t recall the details of my prayer that night, but here’s what I do remember:
Few things DEEPEN & STRENGTHEN YOUR PRAYER LIFE LIKE A STORMY TRIAL!
Trials will force your prayers to take on a new spiritual-weightiness (because, let's face it, it’s hard to be casual with God in prayer when you’re in the HEAT of a trial). This is when you suddenly find yourself praying like a prayer-juggernaut:
***[jug·ger·naut] defined as: a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force hat crushes whatever is in its path"***
So, all of a sudden, your prayers are no longer the routine requests about the same old thing you've have always asked for the same old way. For the first time in your faith, you may find yourselves kneeling, or lifting your hands up, or laying hands on your own head seeking healing, or literally crying out to God in prayer; a powerful experience that you would otherwise never have had had you not been through this trial.
Not only that, but in your prayers, trials will force you to begin contemplating who you truly believe God is and what HIS WORD says He can do. The scriptures you were accustomed to seeing only on Christian t-shirts and coffee mugs suddenly become super real to you.
- Passages like Psalm 28:7 (NIV) become real close to your heart, “[O Lord, you are] my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in [You], and [You help me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise [You].”
- You'll quote places like Philippians 4:13 (ESV), “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
- You'll begin to stand your spiritual-ground in Christ by quoting places like Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment, You shall condemn.”
The truth is, some of the toughest and roughest trials in YOUR life WILL produce some of the most passionate prayers YOU’LL ever pray, and it’ll end up making you a more powerful prayer-juggernaut!
Remember: THE WAY OUT OF A TRIAL IS THROUGH IT, because in it, God produces perseverance in us, he produces great depth in our prayers which results in us having a rich prayer life, and thirdly:
#3. TRIALS WILL PRODUCE IN YOU INSIGHTS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING (IF YOU ASK).
Listen to James 1:5-8 again, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
No matter how high your IQ is, difficult trials are the great equalizer because once it hits, we immediately find ourselves lacking wisdom for how to get ourselves out of it. So, James is making a case here that your greatest need during a trial is not a quick rescue from it;
...rather, what you most desperately need from God in a trial is WISDOM.
To be clear, James is not JUST giving Christians personal advice here. The instruction to ask God for wisdom during trials is a divine command. THIS IS WHAT CHRISTIANS ARE MANDATED TO DO during trials, why?
Well, for one, because it is NOT God’s desire that we wallow in misery in the trials we face. He loves us too much to let us suffer like that. He wants us to have clarity in what He’s doing.
The other reason is because we may be wrongly interpreting the real reason we’re facing a trial. For example, you may be going through a trial and thinking you're experiencing it because you're under spiritual attack, when in reality, the reason you're facing the trial is because of the repercussions of something foolish/sinful YOU DID a while back. On the other hand, you may think you're facing a trial because of some sin you've long forgotten about, when in reality, God sees you as "blameless", but is allowing this trial in your life to refine you for something he wants to use you for.
THIS is why the first thing you and I need in the midst of our trials is godly wisdom! Because with godly wisdom, you will understand the nature and purpose of the trials you’re facing and you’ll know how to meet it head-on so you can come out on the other side victorious. Godly wisdom will explain to you:
- “Here’s what’s going on.”
- “Here’s what I’m supposed to learn.”
- “Here’s how this is going to make me more like Jesus.”
- “Here’s what I need to do next.” [Even if the answer is, “be still!”]
What I find even more incredible about this command though is what James says in verse 5, “[You should ask God for wisdom], who gives GENEROUSLY to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you [if you ask].”
So, "generously" means that God is invested in you more than you realize and ready to pour WISDOM down like heavy rain into your life to help you make sense out of the trial you’re experiencing.
In light of that, here’s another very practical way you can pray if you find yourself facing a trial, “Lord God, your word says true wisdom and power are found in you; and counsel and understanding are yours in abundance [Job 12:13]. So God, grant me knowledge to understand the purpose of this trial in my life, and then give me wisdom to discern what I am to do about it.”
Now, here’s the follow up: When you ask, BELIEVE you will receive it! Don’t doubt or let your emotions sway your faith in God’s ability to answer! He’s more eager to accomplish His will in you than you are willing to ask. So ASK & BELIEVE! Rest in the knowledge that God has heard you and will provide the wisdom for what you need to do next.
I know it's not the easiest pill to swallow, but it's true: THE WAY OUT OF A TRIAL IN YOUR LIFE IS THROUGH IT, because God will use it to shape you to become more and more like Jesus Christ.
- He will use it to produce in you a spiritual stick-to-it-ness
- He will use it to train you to become a prayer juggernaut
- He will use it to produce in you insights beyond your understanding
All of which you will need for what He has NEXT in store for you!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.