“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 knowing that the testing/proving of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3 author’s translation).
When James tells us to consider trials pure joy, he’s not calling us to a shallow, mindless optimism or positive thinking (“I got hit by a car. At least it wasn’t a bus!”). The joy James is speaking of is a real joy that comes from understanding the priceless value of the outcome. Interpret suffering as a good thing because you know you’re going to get perseverance from it.
Definition of Perseverance
Perseverance is the ability to outlast your trial. For the Christian, all suffering is temporary. And the goal is to still be standing firm at the end.
Some people have no perseverance at all. It only takes one half of one second for them to revert to some sinful response. Others can hang in for a while, others a little longer. But what really matters is standing firm all the way until that trial is over without caving in.
We all have different ways of buckling under pressure. For some, it’s through escape. A conversation gets too hard and they just walk out of the room. A conflict in the church and they leave the fellowship. They quit their job, drop out of school, get a divorce. There’s always a tipping point that makes them run.
And if they can’t run physically, it’s an emotional retreat. They withdraw into a cocoon of coldness and silence.
For others, the sinful response is not avoidance, but anger. They fail to persevere in patience.
Others falter in their faith. When trouble drags on too long, they question God’s wisdom, goodness, or love. They back away from God instead of running toward him. Prayer and Bible reading diminish. “It’s not working—why should I pray?” Excuses not to go to church multiply. They back off from serving. And before long, there is a coldness in their relationship with God that, years ago, would have alarmed them.
Another form of caving in is resorting to some earthly distraction for comfort. “I’m having such a hard time—I deserve this indulgence.” They try to reward themselves with pleasures to make up for their suffering.
Some falter by quitting. When things get hard, they bail. Half-finished projects litter their house. Resolutions die on the vine. Diets and trips to the gym only last a couple weeks. All the books in their library have a bookmark somewhere around chapter two. A good portion of their life is spent just staring at hard jobs. “Wow, that’s a lot of laundry ….” But they just can’t seem to get moving.
“I should study for that test.”
“I should write that paper.”
“I should do those labs”.
“I … wonder what’s on TV?”
Life without Perseverance
Life without perseverance is a nightmare. Everything ends in failure.
Why do we quit when things get hard? Isn’t it to make life easier? But it doesn’t. It makes life miserable. You always have this growing mountain of work you are supposed to be doing, and life becomes one giant truckload of guilt all the time.
It seems like shying away from hard things would result in a restful life. But instead of feeling refreshed and rested you feel more and more overwhelmed, even though you aren’t doing anything.
Add to that constant relationship problems. You don’t have any deep friendships, because you bail as soon as things get hard. Your marriage is always on life support because you can’t make it through any conflict without falling into sin. You don’t enjoy the benefits of love relationships because you don’t stick with them long enough to reap those benefits.
Worst of all, those who lack perseverance can be led by the nose wherever Satan wants them to go. All he has to do is place obstacles in the good path. Your worst enemy can steer you wherever he wants you to go.
Oh, what a priceless treasure is perseverance! Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials because you know they can produce in you one of the most valuable character traits you can have—perseverance.
When you buckle under the pressure of a trial, which kind of buckling are you most prone to? Running away, giving up, getting angry, self-pity, rewarding yourself with some sin or distraction, or questioning God’s goodness, love, or power? Can you think of the last time you responded to trouble in one of those ways? What would it look like the next time you suffer a similar trial to persevere?
Keep in mind, the goal here is not to make you feel guilty about your lack of perseverance. James’ purpose is to elevate the value of perseverance in your heart, because the more you treasure that virtue and say, “Oh, how I wish I had more perseverance,” the easier it will be for you to consider it pure joy when you face trials because every trial is an opportunity to increase your perseverance.