Monday, September 3, 2012

Trials turned to Joy - James 1:1-4

This post is the first in a month long series of devotional on the book of James. 
James 1:1-4  James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.  My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. 
Not the most auspicious beginning for a letter.  None of Paul’s flowery “Grace and peace from God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ who has saved you by his glorious resurrection and the Holy Spirit who has gifted you with all good things.” (By the way – that’s not an actual greeting from one of Paul’s letters, just something along the lines of how Paul would start a letter.) 

James gets straight to the point – times are tough for Christians.  He calls them ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’, which is an allusion to the tribes of Israel scattered  - 10 tribes scattered and lost from exile in Babylon and the remaining 2 scattered when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple.  Times are indeed tough if that’s the metaphor someone uses to describe you!
James wants to give encouragement to his fellow believers.  Yes times are hard for believers.  Yes there will be trials of all sorts.  But that’s not the end of the story.

James never mentions the cross or the empty tomb.  He never talks about the crucified and risen Jesus.  But the huge ‘yes’ God says to the world through Jesus' resurrection comes through loud and clear – God is going to take those trials and redeem them, resurrect them and make them become joy to you!
Yes, there will be trials.  Yet sometimes trials that shake your very faith.  But God walks through those trials with you.  Over time, as you begin to recognize God’s presence with you in trouble, you learn to rest in God.  It’s not an easy rest – James calls it “endurance,” - the ability to withstand adversity.  The trouble is still there, but God’s presence is greater. 

And that endurance helps to mature your faith.
Paul writes a similar encouragement to the Romans “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.( Romans 5:3-5 ).

Yes times are tough for Christians.  It’s hard to live a life of faith in a culture that doesn’t have the same values.  It’s hard to life a life of faith when faced with illness, death, job loss, loss of relationship, or whatever trial and tragedy that comes along.

Some questions to ponder:
What trials are you facing right now?
How might James' encouragement to consider trials as joys bring someone hope?
Where have you seen God’s presence in time of trial? 
Suggestions for prayer:
  • those facing struggles in life;
  • those who feel as if they have been exile;
  • thanksgiving for God's presence in times of trial in your own life;
  • ask God for strength for the trials you currently face. 

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