The joy of trials? (K. Payne)

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: Western (Portland)

1. Examine James 1:2-5. Study carefully verse 2. What does it mean to "consider it all joy?"

Note the word "consider." We have a choice concerning how we will view our trials. Are trials really divine paybacks for sin or a God sent opportunity to grow in spiritual maturity? It is so easy to react to difficult circumstances rather than carefully and thoughtfully respond to them. To react is natural. Responding to that same situation demands discipline. The issue is not what I feel like doing, but rather what should I do. Is God in control or am I alone? Trials offer a Christian the opportunity to make a conscious choice to think naturally or supernaturally.

We are told to consider our trials an occasion for joy. At first glance this seems like an odd statement. Why would I consider a difficult circumstance I am facing a joy? Joy is usually associated with happy circumstances not stressful ones. In the English language we often use the words "happy" and "joy" synonymously. But in the Greek language, which the New Testament was originally written, these two words can represent two very different thoughts. Happiness was a word typically used to express feelings, which were a result of external circumstances. The word "joy," however, could be used to express the idea of inner contentment in spite of external circumstances.

James tells us to consider our trials a joy not happiness. There is a big difference between the two concepts.

As Christians we often feel the pressure to pretend that things, which hurt us, don't really hurt. We do not have to pretend we like all of our trials. But we can still experience contentment in spite of them. When our circumstances are positive, we can be happy. Just like a non-Christian.

But when our situations do not go the way we would like we can experience something our non-Christians friends cannot. We are able, by God's grace, to experience peace in the midst of chaos. Why? Because God is still in control and He loves us! "Current circumstances may not be the way I would have planned things, but God I choose to trust these issues to You. You will make sense out of the things that do not make sense to me."

Living by faith and in His peace, because He is in control, or living on an emotional roller coaster because I have mistakenly presumed that either I am in control or no one is in control, is a choice. Sooner or later, every Christian will be given the opportunity to trust God in the face of circumstances that simply seem too complicated to understand from a rational perspective.

Like it or not, we are not the masters of our own fate. We are neither master nor God, and fate, blind chance, does not guide anything. We are His workmanship, created in Him for good works, which He has planned (Ephesians 2:10). We sometimes forget that God is neither a distant relative who does not care, a colleague who needs our opinion or a cosmic Santa Claus who can be manipulated. Trials provide Christians the privilege of standing on biblical truth and remembering who is the creator and who is the creation.

2. What does James say about the timing of trials in verse 2?

Have you ever noticed the word "when" in this verse? How many times have you hit a snag and thought to yourself, "I wonder what I did to deserve this?" The thought is basically that trials can be avoided and are some sort of punishment or pay back from God who is mad at us.

The fact of the matter is that trials are a normal part of every Christian's life. The verse does not say consider it joy "if" you encounter various trials, but "when" you do. Trials are inevitable. They are going to happen. Trials are one of the means God has chosen to help us develop character and spiritual maturity.

A common misconception is that trials are a sign of God's anger; instead, trials are often an indication of God's love, care, and concern. He is still in the active process of making us stronger. Trials are not a mistake. They are part of a divine design to equip Believers for effective daily living in a world hostile to the things of God and those who consistently represent Him.

3. What does James mean by "various" in verse 2?

Have you every thought how easy life could be if you only had to fight one battle at a time? And if that battle were always the same one it would be even more convenient. Even a slow learner would catch on sooner or later if the challenge were always the same. Our God is creative and so are the trials He uses to help us grow. Trials come through a variety of means. Special ministry demands special preparation. Although God's purpose for trials is the same for all of us, the means are not.

How many physical trainers working with professional athletes considering focusing on only one muscle group? Athletes who hope to compete at a world-class level know they must develop their whole body, not just part of it. Developing a great upper body, but weak legs, or visa-versa is a recipe for athletic failure, even if it is done sincerely. Likewise, it should be no surprise that since God uses our trials to make us "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" that He will necessarily have to use various trials to develop and mature different areas of our life, all for the purpose of making us more useful in service to Him.

When I accept good circumstances with joy but accuse God of injustice regarding personal trials there is very little difference between the way I choose to handle life and the way my non-Christians friends do. They may credit the stars or their own ingenuity for good situations and curse their karma, bad luck, Mother Nature, or God for obstacles regarding their plans, but both responses are very similar.

It does not require a Christian commitment to enjoy life when things go well. Who doesn't smile when plans come together as anticipated? As a Christian, one way I can effectively demonstrate the reality of my faith to skeptical friends is by choosing to remain content in the face of adversity. How impressed are you with an individual who accepts the good and blames others for problems? That method for handling difficulties is as old as the Garden of Eden.

Karl Payne's personal note: I grew up in a home that would have been considered moral and ethical, but not religious. Both of my parents were teachers. Dad was a Mathematics / Science specialist for the Sacramento City School District and my mom taught grade school. My Dad would occasionally pray for our food, but we did not read the Bible or discuss religious topics. I decided my first Sunday of seventh grade that I had no real interest in church or Sunday school and informed my parents that I would no longer attend either. I assumed I was a Christian because I had been baptized as a child at my mom's request, but my primary interests were baseball, football and music.

On June 17th, 1970 I became a Christian while attending a youth retreat sponsored by Young Life, a Christian ministry focused upon reaching high school students. The two biggest hurdles I faced in that decision both related to honest assumptions. My first assumption related to what I had understood it meant to be a Christian. I assumed that I was a Christian because I had been baptized. Christians get baptized, I had been baptized, therefore, I was a Christian. I also thought that heaven, if it was real, was attained by being a nice person. I reasoned that since on a moral and ethical scale which had the Pope on one end and Hitler on the other, that my live style was closer to the Pope's than Hitler's, thus making me a shoe in for heaven if God was fair.

The second assumption I had made related to education. In eighth grade my science teacher told our class that "religious people were mental cripples who needed a crutch to get through life." I was very impressed by this teacher and took to heart what he said. In the eleventh grade, my physiology teacher told our class that "educated people believed in evolution." As I grew older my education had become more important to me. As a result of several teacher's comments I assumed that it was not possible to think deeply and still be a Christian. Religion in my mind was therefore something for nice people who were not too concerned about an academic education. My first assumption was to confuse churchianity with Christianity. Churchianity represents men and women making their best efforts to reach up to God and receive His approval, based upon their individual efforts to be found worthy in His eyes. Biblical Christianity is a message explaining how God has chosen to reach down to mankind through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, providing salvation by His grace as a free gift to all who believe, in spite of our unworthiness. Religion is essentially a message of man reaching up to God. Christianity is a message detailing how God has reached down to man. Religion exalts man. Christianity exalts God. I had received just enough religious training to confuse religion with Christianity and had rejected an honest consideration of Christianity in the process. My second assumption was to confuse naturalism, dialectical materialism and the suppositional baggage assumed to be true by both philosophical world views, with actual empirical data and good science, which provides conclusions based upon testing, observation and repetition rather than wishful thinking and naturalist / atheistic suppositional indoctrination.

On the 17th of June, 1970 at 8:00 P.M., I listened to a gentleman clearly explain that God's plan is that I have eternal life (John 3:16, John 10:10, Romans 5:1), but that my problem with sin (to miss the mark in word, thought or deed) had separated me from Him (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). This sounded more like bad news to me than good news. He went on to say that God had provided a remedy for my sin by sending His only son Jesus Christ to die on a cross as a payment for my penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:4-10, 1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 5:8, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:8-9), but that it was absolutely necessary for me to respond to His remedy for the remedy to be effective (John 1:12, Romans 10:9-10, Revelation 3:20). I bowed my head in that room and quietly asked Jesus Christ to become my Savior and Lord. Jesus came into my life and has made me a new person, from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17). That was nearly thirty-one years ago. Knowing Jesus is more than religious activism or academic curiosity. It is a real relationship. Spiritual maturity is a process (1 John 2:12-14) that should continue to develop and grow as long as we are alive.

God used a Campus Crusade for Christ high school ministry to teach me that aggressive, reproductive Christianity (2 Timothy 2:2) should be considered normal Christianity. Sincerity is necessary for Christian living, but it is not sufficient for impacting our world for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Peter 3:15). He has used several godly men, seminary and nearly twenty-five years of serving in church ministry to teach me that making disciples means far more than leading people to Christ and asking them to pray and read their Bibles. It is impossible to give what you do not have or share what you do not know. When people tell me that their Christian faith is boring, what they are really telling me is that they do not pray, they do not study and they do not give away what they have been given. The Christian life is an adventure that is exciting to live and share. To judge Christianity by people who sit on their hands, criticize others and turn a living faith into dead religion is to misrepresent Biblical Christianity. Christianity was never meant to be lived as a passive spectator sport.

Dr. Karl Payne, at heart, is an apologist who loves to train and equip Christians for spiritual service and warfare (Eph.4:11-16). He enjoys preaching, writing and retreat / conference / seminar speaking. He derives his greatest pleasure tackling the challenge of teaching Christian workers, interns and budding preachers / teachers at both the Bible College and Seminary levels. In addition, he has co-authored two books: A just Defense and Cross Training through Multnomah Press.

"Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love."

Henry Drummond (1851-1897)

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