No Pain, No Gain

Confession time: I often wish my life was easier. This is somewhat amusing in a sad sort of way, since my life is already quite easy in comparison to the majority of people in the world, both currently and throughout history. 

But more specifically, I spend a lot of time wishing the PEOPLE in my life were easier to deal with. There are some pretty high-strung, anxious, intense, and strong-willed personalities in my family (myself included). There can be a lot of frustration. A lot of tension. A lot of moments wondering if we will make it through the process of raising children without losing our sanity.  

Despite how it sometimes feels, there are no coincidental situations in life that have no purpose. Instead of being continuously frustrated and discouraged, I started asking myself… what is God trying to teach me through this? Obviously God didn’t give us these personalities and orchestrate our lives this way with the intention of having us feel perpetually irritated and exasperated.

I’ve been doing a study of the book of James that has helped me view life differently. I love James’ style. He is blunt and gets right to the point. No beating around the bush with him. The very first thing he brings up in James 1:2-3 is this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Why in the world should trials produce joy? Because trials give us an opportunity to rely on Christ for our strength and be made more like Him, which should be our ultimate goal. We don’t grow spiritually if we never have to deal with any difficult situations. The joy comes in knowing that God will use trials in our lives to produce steadfastness. We will become more fixed on Him, firmly established in our faith, as we lean on Christ to sustain us. Trials expose our weaknesses. They remind us that we can’t rely on ourselves. They point us towards God’s sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness. 

Being transformed through trials is evidence of our faith, which is a huge theme in James. If we have true faith, our lives will be changed. James 1:22 says: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Likewise, the second half of James 2 focuses on this topic. Faith without works is not a saving faith. Faith by itself without works is dead. Faith is active along with works, and completed by our works. It is not that our works save us… salvation comes through faith alone. But, true faith will RESULT in works. Our inward transformation is evidence of our faith. If there is no evidence, there is no real faith. Anyone can believe facts about God. Even demons believe in God! Obedience to God’s Word instead of giving in to sin in the midst of trials and temptations is what sets us apart. 

Another big theme in James is controlling what we say. Our words reflect what is in our hearts. What I say in response to my kids and difficult people in my life is the outpouring of my heart. If my heart is being transformed by the gospel, then my speech will be too. And James is clear that we need God’s help to do that. His description of the tongue is striking: “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6,8). Jesus himself has sobering words for us on this topic in Matthew 12:33-37: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known for its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

What I say in response to disobedient children or difficult people reflects the state of my heart. Is my heart, and in turn my speech, being transformed? Is my faith being proven true by a slow but steady positive change in my words, and increased self control? Our pattern of speech is so closely linked with our hearts, that it is the evidence of true faith (or lack thereof). Our words have the power to cause destruction and destroy people. But Jesus is more powerful… if we submit ourselves to Him. 

Here’s the real kicker- we can’t blame our problems on other people or circumstances. James 4:1 says this: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Remember earlier, when I said I wished the people in my life were easier to deal with? That’s me, shifting the blame off myself, looking for a way to justify and excuse my own contributions to the conflicts and clashes. James says that instead of looking outwardly for someone or something to blame, we need to look within ourselves. Our sin and selfish desires are the source of strife and strained relationships, and we are responsible for how we respond to the situations that God has allowed in our lives. If all we do is try to blame other people and circumstances for our problems, we will never allow the gospel to truly transform us. 

The remedy to all of this is humility and repentance. His grace is greater than our sin. But we must humble ourselves before Him. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” 

I often don’t think much about repentance. But we can’t truly draw near to God without it. Our sin should sadden us. It’s not something we should brush off, make excuses for, or laugh about. We can only have a right relationship with God through regular repentance, confession, and acknowledging that we cannot live righteously on our own strength. When we see God for who he truly is- limitlessly holy, good, pure, powerful- the only right response is humility, because we know we are nothing in comparison to Him, and we are nothing without Him.

Viewing ourselves through an accurate lens should change the way we interact with other people. James 4:11-12 shows us that we are in no place to speak evil of others, because only God is the lawgiver and judge. Pride keeps us from recognizing our own need for God and wrongly elevates us above others. Humility allows us to reflect Christ in the way that he mercifully and patiently deals with us, so that we may treat others with that same mercy and love. 

The book of James is very practical with many calls to action. It could be looked at as an overview of how the Christian life should be. It has brought a lot of conviction, clarity, encouragement, and peace to my heart. If you have never done a study on James, it is well worth your time! And if you have, I would love to hear how it has challenged and encouraged you in your own unique trials of life.

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