January 4, 2016
Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Are you beginning to get the picture of why I didn’t think James would be good for Advent? Is he serious? Consider our worst problems as a gift?
This advice actually sounds really good—until you have a test or challenge in front of you. Consider the text this way:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when you get diagnosed with cancer or when you have to declare bankruptcy or when you just lost your job or when you just got served divorce papers.
Really? A sheer gift? A gift is supposed to be something good, something you want for Christmas or your birthday. A gift is supposed to be something the Holy Spirit graces you with for blessing other people. How can dark days or hard times or deep distress be a gift?
James is training us in a mentality. He’s not saying these tests and challenges are great things we want more of in our lives. He’s saying it’s just going to happen. We can count on tests and challenges coming our way, especially if we are trying to follow Jesus. Didn’t Jesus say as much? “In this world you will have trouble, but take courage. I have overcome the world!” John 16:33.
Jesus and James teach us we must change our mind as it relates to tests and challenges and general hard times. To “consider” something, as the text instructs, means to change the way you approach it. It is like “counting” one’s weakness as strength, or “counting” a loss as a gain.
Remember in Philippians 2:5 where we see these words? “Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, who did not CONSIDER equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing?” THAT’S WHAT JAMES IS GETTING AT.
Remember in Philippians 2:3, where Paul put it like this? “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility COUNT others more significant than yourselves?” THAT’S WHAT JAMES MEANS.
Remember in Philippians 3:8 where Paul put it this way? What is more, I CONSIDER everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I CONSIDER them garbage, that I may gain Christ . . .”
James is not asking us to call what is true false or what is false, true. No, he’s inviting us into the deeper wisdom of the mind of Christ. More on that tomorrow. Wisdom defies conventional thinking. Wisdom often leads us to a completely counter-intuitive way of approaching life. You know, like when Jesus said the least among us is the greatest and the last will be considered the first. James is schooled in the mind of Jesus and he’s inviting us inside
How we “consider” tests and challenges will determine the outcome they produce in our lives. Tests and challenges can utterly ruin people or renovate them. It cannot be over stressed how much the Christian faith depends on a changed or “renewed” mind. Faith is not about our ever changing feelings. Our feelings can be a great gift or a total distraction. Faith is about the mind, and when I say mind, I don’t mean brain. When Scripture speaks of the mind it speaks of the central core of one’s personhood—the place where heart, strength, spirit, body, intellect, soul and will converge. It’s why Scripture instructs us to “have the same MIND in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .,” (See Philippians 2) or to “not be conformed any longer to the pattern of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your MIND” (see Romans 12:2).
So why must we change our mind with respect to how we consider tests and trials in our life?
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It’s important to note that Christian discipleship is not training in how to be a stoic. It’s not about how one reacts to trials but how one is willing to be broken by God in the midst of them. Again, note the distinction—not broken by the trials but broken by God in the midst of trials. To be broken by God means to be healed of our broken and willful ways of dealing with life. To be broken by God means to finally come to the place where we can admit that we do not have what it takes; that we have exhausted our resources, are at the end of our rope, and that we are poor in spirit. It means to finally be brought to the place where we are ready for an entirely new way of living life—God’s way.
Perseverance does not mean “grinding or gutting it out” in our own strength. Perseverance, in the mind of Christ, means laying down our strength so that the strength of the Holy Spirit can rise up within us—not in spite of our weakness but because of it. Perseverance is not something we do. It’s something the Holy Spirit does in us. It’s excruciatingly hard but inestimably good which is why we are able to count our trials as “pure joy.” I mean who does not want this outcome: “so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” That is God’s agenda in our trials and tests. We can trust him.
The difference between your perseverance and the Holy Spirit’s perseverance within you is all the difference in the world.
2. Are there tests and trials in your past you can now look back upon and see how God used them to create maturity in your life and faith?
3. What difference do you see in “grinding it out” through your trials and allowing yourself to be “broken by God” in the midst of them? Can you see the difference between a stoic determination and a surrendered disposition.
4. Can you distinguish between your own strength of spirit to persevere and the Holy Spirit’s perseverance within you?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.