“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” James 1:2-3
According to my concordance, we’re talking about “the characteristic of one who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
Phew. It makes me think of Bruce Willis on that Armageddon poster. Grim determination set on an iron jaw.
The Greek word is ὑπομονή, which is variously translated “endurance, steadfastness, patient waiting for…” Stickability. Toughing it out. No pain no gain.
As you can see, it’s a characteristic concept which has come into common parlance in gyms, sport and film culture, but in real everyday life is about as unpopular as you could possibly get!
Am I really supposed to pray “Lord, I thank you for all this pain”? This kind of prayer, sometimes attributed to the “saints of old,” almost has a masochistic flavour to it.
Hit me again. (Or, as Homer Simpson put it: “Smite me, thou mighty Smiter!”
James is more realist than masochist. And the reality which he is expounding is not the benefit of the trial itself but the consequence. When you look past something you don’t focus on that thing any more. Literally, you’re focusing on the further, bigger picture.
One image used in the Bible is that of a mother waiting for her baby to come, knowing that pain is here now but anticipating the joy that will follow. “Sorrow endures for a night but joy will come in the morning.”
So James looks past the trials in his life, to consider what they produce. He goes on, “and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Once you have got hold of the big picture, then you have more strength to resist the trial of the moment. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
And of Jesus, it was said, “He who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.” It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’.
This too will pass.
But I don’t want to sound glib about this. Even today I spoke with someone going through a terrible, messy time and we do well to do nothing but offer silence and friendship. There’s a way of declaring this scripture that sounds like you’re saying “Don’t be a baby, just man up and get on with it.”
That’s not what’s being said here.
By contrast, have a look at an inspired paraphrase of Colossians 1:9-12 “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”