In the Christian life, God tells us to expect trials. If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives. In Part 1, we discussed the first two: a joyful attitude and an understanding mind. Today, we will be looking at the last two imperatives.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
God cannot build our character without our cooperation. If we resist Him, then He chastens us into submission. But if we submit to Him, then He can accomplish His work. He is not satisfied with a halfway job. God wants a perfect work; He wants a finished product that is mature and complete.
God’s goal for our lives is maturity. It would be a tragedy if our children remained little babies. We enjoy watching them mature, even though maturity brings dangers as well as delights. Many Christians shelter themselves from the trials of life and as a result never grow up. God wants the “little children” to become “young men” and the “young men” to become “fathers” (1 John 2:12–14).
Paul outlined three works that are involved in a complete Christian life (Eph. 2:8–10). First, there is the work God does for us, which is salvation. Jesus Christ completed this work on the cross. If we trust Him, He will save us. Second, there is the work God does in us, “For we are His workmanship.” This work is known as sanctification. God builds our character and we become more like Jesus Christ, “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). The third work is what God does through us—service. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”
God builds our character before He calls us to service. He must work in us before He can work through us. God spent twenty-five years working in Abraham before He could give him his promised son. God worked thirteen years in Joseph’s life, putting him into “various testings” before He could put him on the throne of Egypt. He spent eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. Our Lord took three years training His disciples, building their character.
But God cannot work in us without our consent. There must be a surrendered will. The mature person does not argue with God’s will; instead, he accepts it willingly and obeys it joyfully. “Doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). If we try to go through trials without surrendered wills, we will end up more like immature children than mature adults.
Jonah is an illustration of this. God commanded Jonah to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh and he refused. God chastened the prophet before he accepted his commission. But Jonah did not obey God from the heart. He did not grow in this experience. How do we know? Because in the last chapter of Jonah the prophet is acting like a spoiled child! He is sitting outside the city pouting, hoping God will send judgment. He is impatient with the sun, the wind, the plant, the worm, and with God.
One difficult stage of maturing is weaning. A child being weaned is sure his mother no longer loves him and everything is against him. Actually, weaning is a step toward maturity and liberty. It is good for the child! Sometimes God has to wean His children away from their childish toys and immature attitudes. David pictured this in Psalm 131:2, “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” God uses trials to wean us away from childish things; but if we do not surrender to Him, we will become even more immature.
James applies this principle to two different kinds of Christians: the poor and the rich. Apparently, money and social status were real problems among these people (see James 2:1–7, 15–16; 4:1–3, 13–17; 5:1–8). God’s testings have a way of leveling us. It is not your material resources that take you through the testings of life; it is your spiritual resources.
Ask—a Believing Heart (James 1:5–8)
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
The people to whom James wrote had problems with their praying (James 4:1–3; 5:13–18). When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.
James has a great deal to say about wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13–18). The Jewish people were lovers of wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs gives evidence. Someone has said knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools: they have brilliant academic records, but they cannot make the simplest decisions in life.
Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom, so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
James not only explained what to ask for (wisdom), but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God, but also believing in His loving care. It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.
James compares the doubting believer to the waves of the sea, up one minute and down the next. This is the experience of the “double-minded man.” Faith says, “Yes!” but unbelief says, “No!” Then doubt comes along and says “Yes!” one minute and “No!” the next. It was doubt that made Peter sink in the waves as he was walking to Jesus (Matt. 14:22–33). Jesus reached out His hand: “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?” When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith; and he began to sink. He was double-minded and he almost drowned.
Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth. This kind of experience is evidence of immaturity. A mind that waivers is not completely convinced God’s way is best. It treats God’s Word like any human advice. It vacillates between allegiance to God, subjective feelings, and the world’s ideas. The double-minded person is like an unfaithful husband or wife: he wants to love both God and the world. James admonished, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded!” (James 4:8) Instability and immaturity go together.
To stabilize a wavering or doubtful mind, we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). If your faith is new, weak, or struggling, remember that you can trust God. Then be loyal to Him.
James closes this section of his letter with a beatitude: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Paul often used athletic illustrations in his letters and James does so here. He is not saying the sinner is saved by enduring trials. He is saying the believer is rewarded by enduring trials. The “crown of life” is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes. God’s crown of life is not glory and honor here on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God forever. The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.
Let’s go back to the weaning illustration for a moment. The child who loves his mother, and who is sure his mother loves him will be able to get through the weaning and start to grow up. The Christian who loves God and who knows God loves him will not fall apart when God permits trials to come. He is secure in God’s love. He is not double-minded, trying to love both God and the world. Lot was double-minded; when trials came, he failed miserably. Abraham was the friend of God; he loved God and trusted Him. When trials came, Abraham triumphed and matured in his faith.
God’s purpose in trials is maturity: “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).
1. What can you do to improve your prayer life?
2. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?
3. Why do we need God’s wisdom when we are going through trials?