Alan Smith tells a great story about the grandfather who used to tell his grandson about his boyhood days of working in a blacksmith shop and how he toughened himself to withstand the rigors of that work.
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.
Like the grandfather, we all tend to resist trials, difficulties and rigorous challenges to our faith. As Alan expressed it, “we are quite content to hold the potato sacks — as long as God doesn’t put any potatoes in them!”
Last night at our Wednesday Bible Study, Dan Jones, one of our deacons at West Main, gave a terrific 5 minute devotional talk on dealing with trials from James 1:2-8
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Here are Dan’s four keys from the text.
(1) Be joyful. This may be one of the most difficult commands in all of the Bible. Is it possible to find any joy in trials? Some mock the idea as ridiculous. Yet, the inspired writer issued this edict.
First, be advised there’s a difference between joy and happiness. You can have the internal joy of the Lord though outward circumstances are not very pleasant.
Furthermore, as Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Outlook determines outcome, and attitude determines actions.” God tells us to expect trials. Be ready. Be prepared. Begin with an attitude of “the joy of the Lord” and you will maintain your joyful spirit throughout a challenging ordeal.
(2) Have faith. God doesn’t expect us to maintain our feelings in a vacuum. Coupled with joy is faith. Faith in God. Faith in His promises. Faith in his deliverance. Faith in His ability to strengthen us. Fortify us. And provide for our needs during the time of trial.
(3) Be patient. Being joyful through the trial of our faith requires great patience. Persistence. Fortitude. Other versions translate he word “endurance,” “steadfastness,” or “perseverance.” Patience is not passive, but active. It is not complacently waiting with a type of martyr spirit.
Trials produce spiritual strength when we exercise ourselves in godliness. Like the athlete in training the weight of the trials we bear develops our spiritual muscles.
(4) Pray. Every situation, circumstance and challenge of life ought to be predicated by prayer. Not as a last resort with a faint glimmer of hope. Or with doubting. Or duplicity. But believing. With faith in the ability of God to hear our prayers and respond to our heart-felt requests.
Dan closed his wonderful exhortation with “Why?” Why endure trials? Why work to be joyful when the testing is tough? Maintain faith when the obstacles are onerous? Be patient when the adversity is arduous? And pray when the difficulties are demanding and distracting?
James provides the answer in verse 12. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
When life’s journey comes to an end every trial, tribulation and temptation that we endure will be worth it, when we hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And then receive the “crown of life.”
In the meantime, may the trial you’re enduring strengthen your spiritual muscles for the hardships that may lie ahead.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman