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 (verses 3-4).
When you're suffering, there is nothing more annoying than someone casually telling you to 'Smile! It could be worse.'
James isn't telling us just to cheer up. He says, 'Consider it joy', because trials are valuable and they have a purpose. Trials test the centre of our faith. We all have faith. The big question is: faith in what? You can have tremendous faith in your own physical fitness until you get sick. You can have tremendous faith in your doctor until he tells you he can't diagnose your problem. The whole point is that faith should be centred on God, who is worthy of our faith. And sometimes it takes testings – trials – to prove to us that the centre of our faith is not where it should be.
Trials are also valuable because they produce perseverance. This does not mean a fatalistic resignation to the inevitable. If we respond appropriately, these testings will produce in us a rugged, patient steadfastness. And when this spiritual perseverance has been produced, it becomes productive in and of itself.
As James explains, 'Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything' (verse 4). The word James uses for 'mature' conveys the idea of attaining the goal, reaching the end point. And the word for 'complete' speaks of a sense of wholeness.
In other words, God has a goal in mind for you: being completely like Christ. And as you trust God and persevere through testing times, the result will be that, slowly but surely, you become more and more like Christ. You will become the person God designed you to be – 'conformed to the image of his Son' (Romans 8:29).
It seems counterintuitive, but trials are valuable and purposeful. They come so that we might not be 'lacking anything'. Consider the trials you are going through. Why do you think God has permitted them? What lessons does he want to teach you? Are these trials:
• making sure your faith is centred on God?
• purifying your faith?
• developing steadfastness in you?
Don't waste your suffering. Ask God to give you his perspective. Pray that you would be able to see these trials as a gift to make you into the person God designed you to be.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way (James 1:2–4, The Message).
This extract has been taken from 'James' by Stuart Briscoe with Elizabeth McQuoid (IVP, March 2017).