There are some moments in Scripture that can absolutely leave you scratching your head. One of those moments comes early in the Book of James.
After opening the book with a greeting, James jumps right into this in the next few verses:
2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:2-8, NRSV)
Does James seriously think that we’re going to be joyful when we’regoing through the tough moments in life? Maybe you get where I’m coming from on this. Joy is often times the last thing that we will feel in the moments of stress, the times of struggle, in the hours of pain, in dealing with fears and questions and doubts.
Yet, that’s where this letter goes. Go to joy. Why? Because it’s a chain reaction. View it as joy because this trial can test your faith and show you just how much you need God. And when you realize that about your faith, your faith can mature and grow.
But still, joy? Joy when someone is stabbing you in the back? Joy when people are talking about you? Joy when you hear a rumor or half-truth? Joy?
In one of my counseling classes, I had an assignment that asked every one to draw a horizontal line across a sheet of paper. Working left to right, we were to list major events in our life. Those that were “good” went above the line. Those that weren’t went below it.
At the end of the exercise, we draw a line connecting the points so that we could see our lives as being filled with both highs and lows, mountains and valleys. And then we had the question where you have to put on your thinking cap: When did you feel the closest to God — on the mountain top or coming out of the valley? All of us pointed to places in our relationship with God that had been profoundly changed when we walked through the valley.
It’s an image that is woven throughout the Bible. It’s an image in the most popular of all Psalms — Psalm 23. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Maybe what James is ultimately pointing us to is that we can reach a place in our faith when we see past the emotions that we encounter and we can see that God is still present. It is that moment when we come out of the valley, when there is nothing else between us and our relationship with God and when we can see God more clearly.
It’s a place on the other side of pain and doubt. It’s the place where we know that no matter what, God is there. Maybe you’re experienced. Or, maybe that’s what you’re working toward.
What it really moves us toward is a place of renewal in our lives. It’s a chance of a reset in our relationship with God. It leads us to redemption of the pain and suffering we have experienced.
That point, that place can lead us to be able to talk to God without doubt. Why? Because we’ve had the chance to see God in our trials. And because we’ve seen God there, we know that God’s going to be there in the future and that God’s never going to leave.
Maybe that’s what I find myself coming back to. God is here, God is there. God is always. Even in the trials.
And for some reason, that does start to make us feel joy.
Almighty and loving God, thank you for your presence in the toughest moments of life. God, you are with us in those moments just as you are with me in happiest of times. Help us to find the joy in knowing you will not leave even in the valleys. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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