My husband pulled our daughter away from the water fountain. “She doesn’t understand how to do this, she keeps pushing away”. “But she’s thirsty”, I replied. “She needs you to push her closer and show her how” I keep thinking about that moment as my words roll around in my mind. She’s thirsty. She needs you to push her closer to the water. I’ve been feeling a lot like that recently. I’ve been feeling spiritually thirsty, and I can’t quite figure out why. My attempts to draw closer to God have felt dry. A worship song, a Bible passage….it’s like I can’t really soak it in, does that make sense?
Our family walked through a pretty intense season a year or so ago. We welcomed a new baby into our family, and then not long after, the Lord called us into foster care. With 5 of our own in tow, it was a ridiculous idea but we couldn’t shake the call from God. Nothing could have prepared me for the chaos that I would experience as several children came in and out of our home. I made mistakes, I felt like I was in a perpetual state of treading water as I tried to juggle fostering and the demands of caring for my own family. There were more instances than I can count that led me to tears on my knees, begging God to remove me from the season that I had found myself in. But He didn’t. And just as I would feel like I couldn’t take another step, I would experience His provision. Whether through the meal of a friend, an encouraging call or simply feeling His peace wash over me.
James 1:2-3 says this: “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything”.
Honestly, I felt as though God had pushed me straight into a trash compactor. Joy was just about the last emotion that I felt. So, what do we do when we feel like God has led us into a season of pain and trial? I don’t know about you, but I can’t just feel happy on command. Is that what James is saying? That we should be grinning and filled with glee as we walk through the death of a loved one? A divorce? Or a diagnosis that brings us to our knees? No, I don’t think so.
Let’s break this down. “...Sisters, consider it…” To consider is defined as “to think carefully about”. James isn’t telling us to feel anything, but to ponder, to regard, to believe. It’s almost as though he is telling us to categorize our trials under the Joy folder in our minds. As I’ve walked through a bit of a spiritually dry spell recently, I thought to myself–: “I need a good trial to bring me closer to God right now”. Of course, the moment the thought popped into my head I regretted it immediately. Kind of like praying for patience, right? We all know how that one goes! But honestly, I think I realized that those moments walking down difficult roads have actually been stored under the “Joy files” in my mind! My son said to me one day in the car, “Mom, happiness comes from stuff and what’s happening around you, but joy comes from God. It stays!” Walking down hard roads doesn’t make me happy, by any means, but the forced reliance on the Lord to get me through undoubtedly brings me joy.
James goes on to say, “You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance”. If it’s the testing of our faith that produces endurance, then we shouldn’t be surprised that God allows us to walk down roads specifically meant to test our faith. And why is endurance so important? Endurance is defined as the “power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way”. I want to highlight that last part, “without giving way”. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7, verse 13, that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”
If MANY are entering the wide gate and traveling the broad road, it’s safe to assume it is both alluring and most easily traveled. The wide road doesn’t ask us to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24), the wide road doesn’t ask us to stand firm in our faith while we suffer (1 Pet. 5:9-10). The wide road offers every fix other than Jesus as comfort. One of my favorite evangelists, Joni Eareckson Tada, speaks of her suffering through paralysis like this:
“God gives us suffering like a sheepdog. It is a sheepdog snapping at your heels, driving you down the road to the Cross where otherwise you might not normally go. You’re driven there by the overwhelming conviction that you just have nowhere else to go. And so God permits the broken heart. He permits the broken home. He permits, he allows, he ordains, he plans even the broken neck until we become broken… Even Jesus himself said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Who are the poor in spirit? Those who come to Jesus every day in empty-handed spiritual poverty, asking him to show them the reason for living that day. Because we’re all richer when we recognize our spiritual poverty”
God wants to create in us the kind of endurance that doesn’t give way at the slightest bit of pressure and tension. It would be easy to turn back in our faith and wander down easy but wrong paths in pursuit of what we think is a relief but is actually the highway to our destruction.
Finally, James urges us to LET endurance have its perfecting effect, so that we will lack nothing. This implies it’s possible to walk through a trial and not let that trial grow us towards Christ. We can choose bitterness and walk away from the Lord. OR we can choose to believe that the trial set before us will strengthen us so that we come to a place of endurance; a place where ultimately we lack nothing and need nothing other than Christ. That’s a pretty freeing place to be!
Hebrews 12:2 says this, “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for Him He endured the cross”. We may not feel joy while we walk through the valleys in our lives, but I firmly believe that when we allow our trials to press us into Christ, joy from Christ will be ours, regardless of our circumstances.
Like my daughter needed to be pushed towards the water to quench her thirst, I too often must be pressed towards Jesus by various trials in my life. Friend, I am praying for you, through whatever dark road you are currently walking down, that you’d let endurance do its work in you, so that you too may consider it joy, and find yourself lacking absolutely nothing as you rely on Christ as your source of hope and joy!