This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the twelve tribes — Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings! Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind 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 1:1-4
The first time I decided to run a 5k race, I went out and purchased a new pair of running shoes, some practical running attire, and then hit the road. How hard can it be, right?
Initially, the run didn’t feel too bad, but the further I went the harder it got…and the worse I felt. I finished my run that day walking and nauseous, and, boy, was I sore the next morning. What was the problem? I had a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothes, and the will to run, but I lacked a key element for success: endurance.
I had to readjust my thinking. I downloaded an app designed to slowly build up the strength needed to run a 5k. The program had me completing a combination of running and walking sessions for a certain amount of time several days a week.
As the weeks went by, the amount of time spent training grew longer. Additionally, as the program progressed, it had me walking less and running more. As I pushed through each session, something happened…I got stronger.
I noticed my runs weren’t making me nauseous any longer, my lungs didn’t burn quite so bad, my legs didn’t tire as quickly, and by the time I finished the program, I was able to run a full 5k. Over time and with practice, I had built up endurance.
Our faith, like our bodies, needs to be exercised in order to grow stronger. Just like it wasn’t enough to have the right shoes and clothing to be a successful runner, it isn’t enough to know God’s Word and promises. There must be application.
Application is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. It’s where what we know to do becomes what we are able to do. I could have read every book published on running a 5k, I could have talked with countless successful 5k runners, but until I got my own body out onto the pavement and began pushing through the training sessions, I was never going to grow as a runner.
James tells us it is a similar process with our faith. The various troubles filling our days become the means through which God grows our spiritual endurance. As we push through the daily testings and temptations with obedience, surrender, and trust in God and His promises, our faith muscles get stronger.
Knowing God’s Word is important, but until we begin to live in the daily application of God’s Word, we are not going to grow as Christians.
I used to see trials and temptations as stumbling blocks to the happy, comfortable life I desired. When troubles came, I resented them and sometimes felt as if God had forgotten me, was upset with me, or was failing me, but James gives us a different picture.
God didn’t leave us in this world to be Christian couch potatoes. We each have a race to run. One that is specifically designed for us. If we’re going to run our races well, we’ll need to grow in endurance. The testings and trials that come to us, from minor inconveniences to major suffering, are where our faith is stretched and our endurance grown. God is at work in our troubles.
I believe this is what is meant in Romans 8:28 where we are told God will cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. In Christ, our troubles are no longer just frustrating interruptions that trip us up in our pursuit of a comfortable life, but faith-growing opportunities that over time work together to grow our spiritual endurance and make us more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Philippians 1:6, we are assured God will finish the good work He has begun in us. What is this good work? Is it the work of happiness that He has begun in us or the work of comfort? No, it’s the work of faith. God will complete the good work of faith in us…a work He began at the moment of our salvation.
In order to complete this work, He will allow into our lives certain hills and valleys, certain twists and turns, so that our spiritual endurance will grow until it is fully-developed. We call this process sanctification or the purification of our faith. When our endurance is fully developed, we will be whole and complete.
This is why we can consider it great joy when troubles come, not because the troubles themselves are enjoyable or even good, but because they have a purpose: to grow our spiritual endurance. We can trust God to work in us something glorious and of eternal value.
Friend, no one runs a race to be happy and comfortable along the way, but everyone runs a race for the joy awaiting them at the finish line. We embrace the pain of the training and the difficulty of the course because we know the end will be worth it.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
I don’t know what troubles you are facing today, but I know you have them. I have troubles, too. There is nothing wrong with asking God to intervene and deliver us, but let’s also ask God to help us not waste our troubles. Let’s ask Him for eyes to see the endurance-growing opportunities embedded in our difficulties and to not only bring us through the valley but to bring us through the valley changed…more like His Son.
(Next week I’ll be looking at James 1:5-8. Feel free to study along with me.)