Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade!” It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact, it is biblical. Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory and trial into triumph. Instead of being victims, they became victors.
James tells us that we can have this same experience today. No matter what the trials may be on the outside (James 1:1–12) or the temptations on the inside (James 1:13–27), through faith in Christ we can experience victory. The result of this victory is spiritual maturity.
If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives:
Count—a Joyful Attitude (James 1:2)
Count [consider] it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
James does not say if you face trials, but whenever you face them. He assumes we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. It is not “if you fall into various testings” but “when you fall into various testings.” The believer who expects his Christian life to be easy is in for a shock. Jesus warned His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). God tells us to expect trials.
Outlook determines outcome and attitude determines action. Because we are God’s “scattered people” and not His “sheltered people,” we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human—sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians. Peter emphasizes this in his first letter: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Satan fights us, the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battle.
The trials of life are not all alike; they are like various colors of yarn the weaver uses to make a beautiful rug. God arranges and mixes the colors and experiences of life together. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory. God’s work in us is not finished yet!
The key word is count. It means “to evaluate.” Paul used it several times in Philippians 3 (see Learning How to Count). When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became “garbage” in the light of his experience with Christ. When we face the trials of life, we must evaluate them in the light of what God is doing for us.
This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most. Even our Lord was able to endure the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), the joy of returning to heaven and one day sharing His glory with His church.
Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome. To end with joy, begin with joy.
“But how,” we may ask, “is it possible to rejoice in the midst of trials?”
Know—an Understanding Mind (James 1:3)
Because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Tough times can teach us perseverance. We cannot really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. It is easy to be kind to others when everything is going well, but can we still be kind when others are treating us unfairly? God wants to make us mature and complete, not keep us from all pain. Instead of complaining about our struggles, we should see them as opportunities for growth.
What does the mature Christian know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?
Our faith is always tested. When God called Abraham to live by faith, He tested him in order to increase his faith. God always tests us to bring out the best; Satan tempts us to bring out the worst. The testing of our faith proves we are truly born again.
Testing works for us, not against us. God’s approval of our faith is precious because it assures us our faith is genuine. Trials work for the believer, not against him. Paul said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Trials, rightly used, help us to mature. What does God want to produce in our lives? Patience, endurance, and the ability to keep going when things are tough. “We glory in our sufferings because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.
Immature people are always impatient; mature people are patient and persistent. Impatience and unbelief usually go together, just as faith and patience do. “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb. 10:36).
God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The little child who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. When the believer learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him. Abraham ran ahead of the Lord, married Hagar, and brought great sorrow into his home (Gen. 16). Moses ran ahead of God, murdered a man, and had to spend forty years with the sheep to learn patience (Ex. 2:11-12). Peter almost killed a man in his impatience (John 18:10-11).
The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials. Endurance cannot be attained by reading an article (even this one), listening to a sermon, or praying a prayer. We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God, and obey Him. The result will be patience and character. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully. We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know the end result will bring glory to God.
This fact explains why studying the Bible helps us grow in patience (Rom. 15:4). As we read about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and even our Lord, we realize God has a purpose in trials. God fulfills His purposes as we trust Him. There is no substitute for an understanding mind. Satan can defeat the ignorant believer, but he cannot overcome the Christian who knows his Bible and understands the purposes of God.
In Part 2, we will discover two more imperatives to turn trials into triumphs!
1. What times of suffering have you experienced? What are some of the things you have learned from these times?
2. What is the value of perseverance?
3. Why do Christians not need to lose heart in their suffering?