My daughter approached her mother-in-law and me about having a summer bible study together. We enthusiastically accepted the invitation and had our first study yesterday in the book of James. I was in tears by the time we finished, overwhelmed by the joy of having a daughter who wants to take a day out of her summer to be with her two "aging moms" and study God's word together, sharing the joys and struggles of our daily lives and looking to the words of James to help us apply wisdom. Chapter 1 starts with a profound exhortation: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." And verse 12 goes on to say, "Blessed is the man [or woman] who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life."
We talked about our own lives and the pain that required perseverance - and we found that there always seems to be a common denominator. The most difficult trial, the worst pain that one has to endure almost always ends up being the very thing God uses for good! My daughter shared about one of her students at the high school who was one of the most gifted young athletes she had ever seen. A powerful runner, skilled in many sports, he had had one severe knee injury and "breakdown" after another. Ultimately, she told us, five knee surgeries caused him to miss innumerable opportunities to further his ambitions in sports or to develop the career he might have had. So, now that he is out of college and grown, what does he do for a living? "He's a knee surgeon," she exclaimed with joy!
The testing of our faith produces perseverance - and God calls us to let perseverance "finish its work" so that we can become mature. Maturity in God's language always means becoming like His Son, Yeshua our Messiah. That is the goal, and the steps toward this goal involve a breaking of our own pride, our own will, our selfish ambitions. Yielded to the Master Potter, we submit to the molding and shaping, no matter how painful, and in the end we find ourselves impacting lives all around us because of the trials we endured.
Last evening John and I went to visit a friend's son in the County Jail. He was imprisoned again on drug charges, and had seemed caught in this addictive cycle, unable to find a way out. I had never met this young man and didn't know what we would talk about, but these words from James kept coming to mind; so I was not surprised when I asked him, "What do you see God doing in your life now?" and he answered, "I am really feeling like he's going to use me when I get out, to help people who can't get off drugs." There it was again - the message of perseverance through trials - and the "crown of life" promised to us who love God and persevere in our faith! I shared with this young inmate the remarkable story of Joseph in Genesis, and how God used him through his time in prison. Joseph proclaimed to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done; the saving of many lives." (Gen. 50:20)
One young man used his perseverance in trials to become a surgeon and mend others' broken knees and broken lives. Another finds faith in prison and perseveres toward the goal of helping others out of addictions. What is your greatest source of pain? How is God testing your faith? Persevere and trust Him! What the enemy meant to harm you, God intends for good. Let perseverance finish its work.