The Joy in Overcoming
An article from SVM Summer 2010
The apostle James has a special message for those who struggle in trials. If we embrace his message, we can live truly effective lives that are pleasing and useful to God, bring clarity to our minds in times of confusion, and have a deeper realization of what our standing in Christ really has to offer, which is a life of fullness.
Engineer, Brother in Christ.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (James 1:2).
James begins his message following a brief greeting with this difficult exhortation. When under a trial, and in a particularly difficult one, the thought of finding a sense of joy is remote. In an attempt to reconcile this scripture with our experiences there is a common belief that once a trial has passed and is successfully overcome, it is then we may show our gratitude for God’s hand of help through it, and for what it may have achieved. Although this retrospective understanding is important, this is not what James has in mind. He calls for his readers to count it all joy when we fall into various trials.
For a trial to be a trial at all it must be grievous at some level. For without a level of mental or emotional discomfort or even physical distress, can such an experience be a trial? If the trial is grievous, where then do we find “all joy” during the experience?
To develop an appreciation for these words of James, let us first develop a background for why he would make such a request of the brethren, explore the context closely, and touch on a few elements of the human condition for help in understanding.
We must make ourselves open to the possibility that the trials James speaks of may not be all inclusive. The trials are those that try our faith (verse 3). In the human experience there are grievous times that none can escape, and Christians are not immune. Tragedy and loss may not always test our faith. Christians are not promised immunity from what is common to man. James does not say “all trials:” he rather states “various trials.” In James’s view, these various trials are trials of faith. The nature of these trials is the temptation to compromise or deviate from the will of God. This would include the temptation to sin, to compromise one’s faith in exchange for comfort, to resist the work of the Holy Spirit, and to reconsider the path that one has taken and deal with life in a way fashioned by the carnal mind.
One temptation is to harden our hearts as a means of protection. This sin is deceitful as a hardened heart feels so justified. Becoming angry with people or organizations that have let us down or do not seem to respond as they should does not excuse wrong behavior and attitudes. This should be of great concern for us in perhaps the latter days where we learn the love of many will grow cold amidst persecution, personal distress (family, work, and health issues), and church pressures (Matt. 24:12). Some begin to focus their attention on other sources to find meaningful inspiration in their lives. Although belief in God may persist in the offended believer, the hardened heart will become fruitless before God.
In following Christ strong earthly ties invoke their will on the believer, and when they are in conflict with the requirements of discipleship then the believer must turn from them to follow God (Luke 14:25-33). This is not a call for a believer to disregard family relationships; however, the walk that is obedient to Christ at times may be in direct opposition to a believer’s connections to life in the world. Our own preservation instinct to conduct life on our own terms is also a common culprit (Luke 17:33). However, the repeated theme throughout the Bible is that God’s will is supreme. Conflict will occur when either our will or the will of others is pressed upon us in direct opposition to God’s will. Trials test the steadfastness of a believer and expose dependencies on carnal values and ways of thinking that we erroneously and unknowingly believe makes life worthwhile.
The carnal self-will can be very strong. Our own will is often self-serving and self-preserving and is often overlooked during trials, as an underestimated factor in what brings us difficulty. The will of man is so often, in our own assessment, reasonable and worthy, but often has its roots in selfish motivation and in seemingly innocent ways.
“… knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).
The product of our trials must be patience. When frustration overcomes patience during a trial, there is a temptation to retreat. This retreat often comes in a way that brings temporary relief from a faith that does not seem to be working and seems to have its promises failing. Although often not altogether abandoning the faith in terms of a doctrine or in church attendance, the individual seeks to get resolution from alternative strategies that do not include consulting God and His wisdom. The believer may resolve instead to put on a set of defenses that includes a guarded approach to the faith and the word of God, and perhaps distance himself or herself from other brethren. When we compromise our faith to seek a resolution to problems we are relying on our own carnal instincts, which is succumbing to temptation. James reminds the believer of the reward for those who endure temptation by not deviating from the will of God:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (verse 12).
Many brethren become confused or bewildered when life takes a turn for the worse, and often are unable to identify a particular cause. We begin to wonder if God is displeased or there is something wrong with our faith. We should remember that no saint in the Bible was ever immune to trials of this nature. Even these trials are considered beneficial by James. The reader should take to heart the lesson of Psalm 44.
The Psalmist begins by acknowledging all the former experiences of God’s power and goodness to the fathers, the victories they have and will have in God’s name. They have not forgotten or forsaken the Lord:
“In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever”. (verse 8)
“… BUT …”
“… You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies” (verse 9).
One should carefully study Psalm 44 and notice there is no indication that God was displeased or handing down punishment. Even for no apparent reason at all, the believer must have times of temptation and discouragement.
“ Yet for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (verse 22).
Despite affliction, the Psalmist remains patient, and does not forsake the commandment:
“All this has come upon us; but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with Your covenant” (verse 17).
We should take special consideration in the knowledge that the testing of our faith produces patience. This is the “knowing” James writes of in chapter 1, verse 3. Knowing is the key. Knowing comes from experience and sound teaching that focus on the tools of overcoming and what Christian overcoming achieves. We need to know the purpose of trials as James would have us understand.
“But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”
Patience has a perfect work that unravels misconceptions and wrong assumptions about the life God wants us to have and how abundant life truly is. The perfect work of patience seeks to disconnect us with what we erroneously seek and this belief provides us with security and significance.
Both security and significance are required by human beings to live life as whole and real persons. When we speak of significance we are talking about purpose, relevance, and adequacy. When we speak of security, we are talking about unconditional and consistently expressed love or permanent acceptance.
These needs are not too difficult to understand when we consider the needs of children. The child that is hurt or upset runs to a parent for safety. Children also seek parental approval. As children grow older, they seek security and significance to find purpose in life by other means.
The need to feel wanted and desired, significant and purposeful is the psychological target of many of the feel good marketers and is often used for exploitation. The feel-good or health and wealth marketing industries, conducted in the name of Christ or the name of the Dream, have in the basis of their promotional plans a promise for fulfillment of humankind’s need to find acceptance and adequacy.
These strategies are never truly successful. The chronic need to fill the bottomless pit causes psychological problems when barriers are encountered.
Security and Significance in Christ
Adam and Eve were both significant and secure from the time they were created. The fulfillment of these needs was likely not given a second thought as they had a relationship with God that was unhindered. When sin entered, the relationship was broken and they hid themselves from God. They feared rejection, rationalized their behavior through blame of another, and were sent out from the garden. Adam had dominion over the world, now he must toil in it. He now had threatened security and significance which he must labor to fulfill.
Humankind has since sought out various means and strategies in finding purpose, meaning, and sustenance. Although various strategies, too numerous to mention, have been invoked and refined, having followings generation after generation, all ultimately fail to truly satisfy these needs in the capacity experienced by Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve, before they transgressed the Lord’s commandment, were in need of nothing.
The Christian also has experienced and believed many of these same strategies to fulfill the same needs, but must come to terms that even the most noble of alternative strategies have limited value when compared to God’s means and wishes to fulfill them. Letting go of earthly securities often comes through trials of faith in the way James asks us to understand by experience: that true, everlasting significance and security only come by Jesus Christ.
This defines the perfect work of patience. It breaks down barriers we unknowingly hold onto to make us feel worthwhile, adequate, and accepted. Holding onto other securities outside of Christ limits our intimate relationship with Him and our potential in being a more effective instrument for doing His will.
So awesome is the perfect work of patience that the joy of Christian living starts to come into focus. The end result is that we are perfect and entire, in want of nothing. This pictures a person who fully has realized the security and significance he or she has in God. The person has come to the full knowledge that Jesus Christ has freed him or her from living life in a deficit condition, a condition of which the person was unaware.
To be in a continual state of want is a miserable place to be. Those outside Christ will continually seek security, significance, and meaning in what the world offers, i.e., temporary fulfillment of needs. The cycle of need begins again when the means by which needs are being met are threatened. This is operating from a deficit condition or a situation in which liabilities always exceed assets.
Therefore, the experience of trials shows a way for the believer to adopt God’s view of life. When God’s perspective comes into view of the believer, the challenges we face, no matter how difficult, come into proper perspective. The believer has a foundation to overcome the trials before him or her. Despite everything the world wants us to believe, our security and significance comes from us continually abiding in Jesus Christ.
Most often discussions regarding these early verses of James focus on building Christian character. Character is defined as the makeup of mental and ethical traits that prevail in the mind of an individual. The perfect work of patience through trial indeed will bring about a transformation in the believer’s character. This process, however, should be best understood in the larger context that has been presented thus far in James when he says “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Development of Christian character begins as believers understand their security and significance in Jesus Christ. Once Christians believe they are worthwhile, and operating from fullness, and that nothing can rob them of these things as they believe in Christ, a right way of thinking emerges. Knowing their needs are met in Christ, the selfish motivation to fulfill these needs will diminish.
In terms of building Christ-like character, the experiences of this world in isolation do nothing to teach us how. Character is not a direct product of suffering a trial, but rather by experiencing Christ through trial. It is a process that nurtures the implanted Word (The Seed, all the genetics of God) within us. Without seeking the wisdom of God in trial and seeing the situation from God’s perspective and watching His hand at work, trials will only amount to drudgery, a hardened heart, and bitterness. Frustration dominates the Christian’s experience and a falling away may occur. A Christ-like character will not develop from wrong responses to trial. As we develop a new way of thinking, a new behavior emerges. It means coming to terms with a new motivation on how to go about life, supported by the knowledge that our needs are continually met by Jesus Christ. It demonstrates to the believer a way of life that is fulfilling and rewarding through the way of “give” and not “get.” The selfish way begins to diminish. The transformation of the mind spurred on and set on course by the Holy Spirit begins to be recognizable in the character makeup of the believer, and an amazing selfless transformation in the heart and mind occurs — he begins to love his brother.
Old Testament Testimony
“The lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1
This line of Psalm 23 illustrates the state of mind attainable only by a believer. David writes of the same condition of the Christian following Christ, the perfect work of patience, in want of nothing, freed from living in a deficit condition and living life from fullness. David expresses this in his opening line of the 23rd Psalm. Sheep are very nervous by nature, and rarely lie down unless they feel safe. Secure in the Lord, they can lie down in green pastures, walk in the righteous path, and bravely walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The sheep’s needs are totally fulfilled.
“… but now my eye sees you” – Job 42:5
Look at Job. James reminds us of the patience of Job (James 5:11). At the end of all the soul searching and long discourses, the Lord finally reveals Himself and Job exclaims, “… now my eye sees you.” It was Job’s patience through trial that brought him to realize and let go of wrong perceptions of God and of himself. Although vastly different in a dramatic sense, the experience of Christians under trial should be the same as Job’s in the real sense. Christians under trial and in bewildering situations undergo stressful soul searching like Job did and usually seek understanding by having discussions with others, but the same patience must endure and have its perfect work as it did with Job. Sound familiar?
A Life of Fullness
The joy is in knowing that the experience of a trial enlarges the realization of how Christ has freed us from living in a burdened deficit condition and that we can live a life of fullness regardless of our circumstances.
Christians are tempted to develop alternative strategies in an effort to feel worthwhile and accepted. This has been a tragic mistake for some and is the subject of disdain in most of the apostolic writings. Paul wrote to the Colossians who were entertaining various forms of gnostic and ascetic beliefs in the hope of finding further acceptance in Christ. Paul had this to tell them:
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” – Colossians 2:9-10
This is the theology that James wants us to realize. There is nothing in Christ we lack; we are complete in our standing in Christ. Our needs can be met fully and the resources of God fully are available. You have His unconditional love which is consistent and forever available. We are given the tremendous opportunity to grow in grace and knowledge, free from the burden of a deficit condition, free from unpaid debt, and free from the law pertaining to sin and death. Talk about opportunity! This is what James wants us to realize: what the perfect work of patience in trial will bring us to embrace!
Help in Trial
Are you having difficulty in a trial? Are you frustrated that there is no end or solution in sight? Are you having trouble understanding the joy in overcoming and the value of what trials of faith have? James is not new to these questions, and he provides us with answers and encouragement:
“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” (James 1:5).
Wisdom from heaven, especially during a trial of faith, is the basis of the answer to these questions. Worldly wisdom is not consistent with heavenly wisdom. James tells us the wisdom from above “…is first pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (3:17). This wisdom is not self-seeking but aligns the mind to the will of God. When we seek wisdom from above we will receive it, and it is a tremendous reassurance of our complete sufficiency in Christ.
“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 he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” ( James 1:6-8).
One who doubts and is double-minded has not accepted the promise of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and the wisdom that God offers. The double-minded seeks the best of both worlds. Such believers are not confident in the security God offers and still holds onto worldly securities and belief structures. Verse 6 illustrates the condition of a doubtful believer. It is as though the sea is driven by something else. The sea is driven by the wind; the Christian is driven by external (worldly) influences.
The wisdom from above is aligned with God’s view on life. It reaffirms our significance in Christ, overcomes confusion, and brings clarity into the life of the believer. This experience compounds for the believer and eventually compels us to exclaim as Paul did:
“… to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Christians with transformed minds who have released what security they knew outside of Christ and have now found in Christ can relate to what Paul wrote to the Philippians. By ridding ourselves of double-mindedness, the trials of faith can be overcome successfully as we let go of the security of the world and lay hold of our security in God.
“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flowers fall, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits” – (James 1: 9-11).
These verses continue to speak to the point of our security in Christ. The lowly person rejoices in his or her humility. For in his or her lowly state with respect to the world’s standards, he or she is more secure than the richest of men. Despite difficulties the person knows where true security lies, and he is complete and satisfied in Christ, which James sees as reason to glory about. The rich are to glory in being made low. For despite riches, they know if it were all lost suddenly their difficulties will be small compared to the knowledge that they lack nothing in Christ.
The Savior’s Call to Salvation
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” – Matt 11:28-30
The burden of life that Christ refers to is humankind’s constant concern to find adequacy and purpose while at the same time trying to sustain life in a world that always threatens to take it all away. Life is trying to fill a bottomless pit that, if only filled, would ease all burdens. Only in Christ can a human’s needs truly be fulfilled.
“I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes in me shall never thirst” ( John 6:35).
Jesus Christ has promised to be sufficient in meeting believers’ needs. Food and water are true needs that must be met (significance and security). Christ says those who hunger and thirst live in a deficit condition. Once an unsaved individual finds his or her needs met, the means by which they are being met will again be threatened. It is only temporal security and significance. When threatened, the individual will again hunger and thirst to defend or find new means to find purpose and adequacy, and the cycle continues – often leading to frustration and despair. A Christian is not to hunger or thirst for security and significance beyond Jesus Christ. James is advocating that true security and significance only can be found in Christ, giving us an everlasting uninterrupted relationship with the Father. Then the fulfillment of our needs being met cannot be threatened:
“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:28-30).
“Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Again we see that Christ promises to meet our every need continually by the analogy of the well where we will never thirst again.
It should be obvious that the wrong way of thinking to fulfill needs can be corrected by trials of faith. If we properly interpret trials as James desires that we do, then the experience will transform a Christian’s thinking into realizing what he now has in Jesus Christ and at the same time recognizing the futility of seeking meaning for life outside the promises He has given.
“I am the door: by me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:9, 10).
An abundant life can only be found by knowing through the perfect work of patience that all one’s needs are met and cannot be taken away while he or she abides in Christ. All living extends outward of a believer’s acceptance. It has been said that a man’s life consists of the abundance of his thoughts. Perhaps Paul can help us on the truth of an abundant life:
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:11-12).
Notice it was a learning experience for Paul as it will be for all Christians who are steadfast.
Rivers of Living Water
God’s call to salvation includes security and significance, a life fulfilling and everlasting, in Him. Only God offers true security, significance and meaning that cannot be threatened or taken away by others.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37, 38).
James wants us to realize all the promises that God offers His children, and how God wishes to sustain us in life, now and forever. For this reason, it is to be counted as all joy when we fall into various trials, for they are instruments used in bringing us to terms with the fact that we have been set free by Jesus Christ.
“ Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
The choice is for us to believe it.
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