February 18 I Sunday

Leviticus 23-24

Mark 1:1-22

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  —James 1:2-3

 

After James introduces himself in his letter, he gives greetings to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). These are the Jewish believers who had once been part of the Jerusalem church, but were scattered all over the Roman world after the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr to die for Christ. This instigated great persecution against the church with believers proclaiming the Gospel as they fled. It is no wonder, then, that James opens his letter by encouraging his readers to consider trials of any kind “pure joy.”

These first few verses teach us five aspects in particular about trials. Firstly, trials are numerous. The Jewish believers may have fled a great trial in Jerusalem, but James reminds them that there would be new trials to face in their new lands. Secondly, trials are continuous. We may experience a reprieve here and there, but there will always be another difficulty just around the corner.

James then surprises his readers with an optimistic third point: that good can come from trials. They are prosperous, he says, for as we go through hardships, this testing of our faith produces perseverance. Many Christians can attest that difficulties they thought would overwhelm them actually brought them closer to God. We too may feel like we would never survive certain difficulties, but God promises to be to us exactly what we need when we need it, not before. Trials are opportunities to trust and experience God in ways we never would when the sun is shining and the sky is blue.

For this reason, trials are desirous, the fourth aspect. James continues, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). Against all logic, we will find trials desirous because our perseverance will cause us to be made complete—that is, more Christ-like. James is not recommending we deliberately seek out hardships, but when we experience them, we depend on God more and find our character being developed because of them. This is why trials are also joyous, James’s fifth point.

Andrew Murray, a South African pastor and 19th-century writer, developed what he considered an effective formula for dealing with trials. To summarize, he says, “We experience joy in the midst of tough times when we recognize we are there by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training and for His time.” Not only do trials benefit our characters, but we discover pure joy when in utter dependence and trust in God, we come out on the other side, having experienced Him in ways that will astound us!

Prayer: Almighty God, though things may seem dark and desperate now, I trust You to see me through. Help me to remain utterly dependent on You and thank You for always being with me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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