Setting Up Stones: Using Stumbling Blocks to Build an Altar
Reading: James 1:2-4
I don’t really go to the book of James very often. I think I skip over it sometimes unintentionally because it’s very in your face. No sugar coating of anything. The basic message of James is that if you believe it, you should live it. And he doesn’t mind saying it in a way that might offend someone. In the very first chapter, James jumps right in with saying something I don’t want to hear.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (NASB).”
I was talking to a friend today, and she told me about a writer who explains something called the “J” curve which is found throughout scripture. Meaning something bad happens, there’s a low point, but then as events unfold, eventually there’s a resurrection or something good that comes from the event. We talked about how I’m sort of at the bottom of the “J,” but there could be something good to come out of it.
And I said, “if I just let it.” And then she directed me to this passage in James. I get hung up with the shock at how the Bible tells us to consider it joy when something terrible happens, and I somehow gloss over what comes next. And what comes next is that we have to LET endurance have its perfect result. I think I always just thought that the good would happen regardless of how I felt about it, as would the bad that we have to suffer through in the process. But I never thought about how I needed to be a willing participant in all this.
A while back, my mom and dad got a key word study bible for me for Christmas. So when I got home from having this conversation, I looked at the key words. If I paraphrase the scriptures with the definitions that I found, the passage reads like this (key words in all caps):
“Consider it all a CALM DELIGHT, my brethren, when you encounter various STATES OF TRIALS WHERE GOD BRINGS HIS PEOPLE THROUGH AFFLICTION IN ORDER TO ENCOURAGE AND PROVE THEIR FAITH AND CONFIDENCE IN HIM, knowing that the testing of your RELIANCE UPON CHRIST produces A BEARING UP UNDER OR CONSTANCY UNDER SUFFERING WITH A TRANQUIL MIND. And HAVE/HOLD/POSSESS this CONSTANCY UNDER SUFFERING WITH A TRANQUIL MIND have its PERFECTLY SOUND, WHOLE IN EVERY PART work so that you may be mature and WHOLE IN EVERY PART, lacking nothing.
When you look at it this way, there’s something for you to do. There’s something to have control over. There’s a choice to be made. You don’t get to choose what happens to you, and you don’t get a say in what losses you suffer, but you do get a say in what you will do with that suffering. Here, James is saying that we should hold onto it, possess it, take ownership of it so that as we lean into what we are going through, we learn to keep a constant faith in Christ with our minds at peace even as we suffer.
It’s a lesson I’m learning. I don’t have to like it, and you don’t either. But if you’re looking for purpose in your pain, here it is. Here is what you do with it. Here is the good God brings from it. I’m still not sure I think it’s fair. But I’m making my peace with the fact that it’s useful. Try it this week. We’ll try it together. Take ownership of your suffering, and let it build in you a constancy of faith that brings a tranquil mind. Right now we feel broken, but he’s telling us this is how to be whole. —Amanda