Consider these hard economic times pure joy, my brothers and sisters. Did you know that’s in the Bible? Well, not exactly those words. What James 1:2 says is “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever your face trials of many kinds,” (TNIV). Is it fair to take James words and use them the way that I have? I think so. I have been spending a lot of time with James lately (through his letter), trying to understand what he has to say to followers of Jesus in 2008.
James wrote his letter maybe 15 years after the death of Jesus to Christians who had been scattered by persecution. They were facing challenging economic and social barriers as they were excluded because of their faith. We are facing challenging times also, although I don’t think it is as directly connected with our faith. Or, at least in the sense that Christians aren’t refused at the gas pumps because of their faith. In the midst of difficult times, James tells these Jesus-followers that they should consider their trials pure joy.
Is James suggesting a pie in the sky attitude that pretends as if the world is not as bad as it really is? Should we just say, “I don’t care if I can’t afford groceries, I’m a happy Christian!” No, I think James offers us spiritual insight into dealing with hard times. We should consider them pure joy, he says, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4, TNIV) When we face hard times, we should see in them an opportunity for God to grow and shape us, for our faith to be fired and transformed.
As our economy falters and uncertainty rolls in over the horizon, we have a choice to make. We can despair and complain. Or, we can consider the hard times pure joy by seeing them as an opportunity to build our dependence on God. By seeing that these hard times might help us to evaluate what is truly important, if there are material possessions that we have idolized, to ponder where we have truly put our trust. James does not tell us that we have to enjoy the difficult times. I am not saying that we ought to be happy when friends and family lose their homes. Nor am I suggesting that we ought not to pray for economic vitality.
What I am suggesting is that in hard times like these, we can embrace the opportunity for spiritual growth in ourselves and in others. We can say to God, “Lord, please use these challenging times to shape and mold us into the image of your Son. Show me the ways that I have been conformed to the pattern of this world. Renew my mind and help me be transformed. In these hard times, purify my faith, like gold in a fire.”
I had a rowing coach in college who would tell us, “Pain is only weakness leaving the body.” We didn’t enjoy the pain at the time, but on race day, we were glad that the weakness had been purged through the pain. Our faith life is much the same. We don’t have to enjoy the difficult times, but we can rejoice in the way those painful days produce a mature faith. I close with the lyrics of a song by Keith Getty, “When trials come, no longer fear, for in the pain our God draws near, and fires a faith worth more than gold. And there is faithfulness is told.”