My favorite author, anonymous, tells the story about his grandfather who worked in a blacksmith shop when he was a boy. He would relate stories of how he had toughened himself up so he could stand the rigors of black smithing.
One story was how he had developed his arm and shoulder muscles. He said he would stand outside behind the house and, with a 5-pound potato sack in each hand, extend his arms straight out to his sides and hold them there as long as he could.
After a while he tried 10-pound potato sacks, then 50-pound potato sacks and finally he got to where he could lift a 100-pound potato sack in each hand and hold his arms straight out for more than a full minute!
Next, he started putting potatoes in the sacks!
In one of the great Bible texts, we are admonished, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2, NIV)
As we enjoy ease and prosperity in our technological age in America, these words sound strange to our ears. Most of us probably don’t consider trials, tests and tribulations as something that produces “pure joy.” But consider how they may have sounded to James’ readers?
He is writing to Jewish Christians who are suffering. They have been forced from their homes, lost their possessions, exploited by the wealthy and slandered for their faith in Jesus. They are enduring hardship, persecution and severe daily trials.
But they should accept it with “pure joy.” Really? How? And why?
The next verse helps to explain James’ divine reasoning. “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (Jas 1:4).
This text teaches us several important lessons relevant for our time.
(1) Trials will come.
Notice James didn’t say, “If trials come,” but “when trials come.” They will. No one lives a life without problems, pressure, or pain.
(2) Trials come in different ways.
The word “trial” means trouble, adversity or affliction. It can be used to refer to temptation to sin. But inherent in the word is the meaning of a test, or an attempt to prove. Trials test our character. Our commitment. Our consecration. Our loyalty to the Lord.
We all face trials. But they come in a variety of ways. Trials may be financial. Emotional. Or physical. Trials may occur in our relationships. Sickness and death in our families bring a unique kind of trial.
(3) Trials produce perseverance.
The word translated “perseverance” is also rendered “patience,” “endurance” and “steadfastness” in other English versions. Dr Thayer says it describes “the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
Trials make us stronger. Build us up spiritually. Increase our spiritual stamina. Fortify our faith. Heighten our hope. Purify our love of God. Deepen our resolve. And refocus our attention heavenward.
(4) Trials don’t have to steal our joy.
For Christians joy is centered in Christ. It is the result of spiritual commitment. It is internal instead of external. And joy is not diminished by trials. In fact, it is enhanced because we know the struggles we face produce patience and steadfast endurance.
Just like empty potato sacks will never build muscles, neither will a trouble-free life develop our spiritual strength.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman