During my youth group years, our youth minister assembled a Lead Team. The Lead Team was made up of student leaders who cared about the direction of the ministry (and really wanted to go to Super Summer - the Camp of all camps in Oklahoma). One of the requirements to be a part of the Lead Team was to memorize several different scriptures. James 1:2-4 was one of those passages.
"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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4I had it down. I rattled it off quickly and carelessly, ready to receive my stamp of approval. But not only was it easy to say, it was easy to do.
To me and my high school mind, I associated "trials" strictly with "the testing of your faith." And in high school, the testing of your faith meant abstaining from lots of "worldly" activities and being "different." Or at least that's what I thought. But to me that was easy. I didn't consider it a trial. I had friends who had the same kinds of standards as me and I felt no pressure whatsoever to be somebody or do something I didn't agree with.
Nobody made fun of me for being a Christian, I never felt pressured to do drugs like Kelly Kapowski, and I certainly wasn't trying to be popular. Let's be honest - if a "trial" was defined as "standing up for my beliefs by writing my senior English paper over the existence of God and presenting it in front of my class" then I passed the test with flying colors. Standing up for God and being the good girl in high school was a challenge I gladly accepted. I wasn't tempted by a lot and, at the time, I thought my awesome self-control and strong Christian background were to blame for it. I suppose they were, but there was more.
I hadn't really experienced trials. My faith hadn't really ever been tested. Things usually went my way and blessing after blessing was poured into my life.
While the literal “testing of your faith” is a trial in and of itself, there are a plethora of other things in life that test your faith without falling directly under that category - losing someone, a broken heart, a mental sickness, a terminal illness. This was something I failed to understand as a 16 year old.
"Considering it pure joy" when your life isn't at all what you thought it should or would be is difficult. There have been times in my life when I've wondered about this passage of scripture. Why would anyone want to consider it joy? What does that do for anyone?
But seeing people rejoice in trials is incredibly fascinating. You can't resist it. You have to read that blog written by the lady who lost her husband and is pushing through it with such grace. You have to watch that news segment about the young girl who is fighting cancer with a smile on her face. There's something contagious about seeing people live through trials with hope.
My automatic and human response to hardships is worry. I plan for every possible scenario. I get lost in the fog of the tragedy. I can't see out and I certainly can't see the big picture. Fear easily finds its way into my heart and mind.
But what is it that God says about worry?
"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philipians 4:6-7Pray through your trials instead of worrying about them.
That proves to be quite a difficult task. In my I-can-fix-it-on-my-own mentality, it's hard to imagine that saying words to somebody I can't see will change my circumstance. Praying isn't tangible. I can physically fix situations. I should just make a plan and do something about my trial. That's how I operated for quite awhile.
But there's a part of that verse that I didn’t catch until this past year.
"His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."
His Peace will guard my heart. It will guard my heart from the trash of this world, from the worries of every single day, from the impulse to want to control and fix everything around me, from hopelessness, from monotony-provoked restlessness, from the darkness of this place we live in. I cannot manufacture this peace. It only comes from God.
To me, those two verses go hand in hand. Bad things happen, we pray instead of worry, and God's peace protects us.
Praying about our trials doesn't always result in a fixed, changed, or better circumstance. But that's not the point. It's an issue of the heart.
(Quote from "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller)
Back in July of 2012, I saw these memory verses become truth in my life. I had my first-ever panic attack one night, and the fear that accompanied it was unimaginable. I felt the intense mental, physical, and emotional symptoms of anxiety for 5 days. I went to doctors, I searched for answers, and I was left with nothing. But on that 5th night, I decided to look back on some old journal entries I'd written. In reading these pages, I was reminded that I had prayed for this very thing - to learn what it means to be weak, to have nothing but God, to truly need Him only. I had been asking for this realization and God was giving it to me. I began to cry out to God with a heart that believed He was still God and He was still good. In that moment, the pain from my body was washed away and I felt His peace. I experienced supernatural healing that night.
Although anxiety is something I still have to battle occasionally, my perspective has changed. Really, my life has changed; it’s changed for the better. Seeking God in the midst of my trials, knowing God is still sovereign and good, and choosing to rejoice regardless of the circumstance is the answer. Because of this one life experience, I can carry this truth with me the rest of my years. God's goodness will find its way into my hardships and I can rest in rejoicing in them.
We don't rejoice in our trials because God thought it'd be a fun challenge. Or because we need to have a Positive Penny approach to life, becoming totally unable to relate with others. Or because we should be naive, optimistic, and have no concept of reality.
Rejoicing in our trials means that we can live in the midst of chaos and tragedy by clinging to the one thing we know is true. It means we can experience true life to its fullest degree. If we want to know any kind of calm or rest in our lives, we have no choice but to do this. We have to rejoice, not to check it off our spiritual checklist, but because we literally can't function otherwise. Our hearts need guarding, and hiding them in the peace that only God can offer is the only option.
Putting James 1:2-4 into practice is one of the most powerful and rewarding things I've experienced. Seeing it as a necessity for living in Christ rather than just a cute catchphrase to tell suffering people will truly change our lives.