TURNING TRIALS INTO TRIUMPHS
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade!” It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact, it is biblical. Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory and trial into triumph. Instead of being victims, they became victors.
James tells us that we can have this same experience today. No matter what the trials may be on the outside () or the temptations on the inside (), through faith in Christ we can experience victory. The result of this victory is spiritual maturity.
If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives: count (), know (), let (, ), and ask (). Or, to put it another way, there are four essentials for victory in trials: a joyful attitude, an understanding mind, a surrendered will, and a heart that wants to believe.
Count—a Joyful Attitude ()
Outlook determines outcome, and attitude determines action. God tells us to expect trials. It is not “if you fall into various testings” but “when you fall into various testings.” The believer who expects his Christian life to be easy is in for a shock. Jesus warned His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (). Paul told his converts that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” ().
Because we are God’s “scattered people” and not God’s “sheltered people,” we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human—sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians. Peter emphasizes this in his first letter: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (). Satan fights us, the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battle.
The phrase “fall into” does not suggest a stupid accident. Translate it “encounter, come across.” A Christian certainly should not manufacture trials. The Greek word translated “divers” means “various, varicolored.” Peter uses the same word in —“Ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” The trials of life are not all alike; they are like variegated yarn that the weaver uses to make a beautiful rug. God arranges and mixes the colors and experiences of life. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory.
The key word is count. It is a financial term, and it means “to evaluate.” Paul used it several times in . When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became “garbage” in the light of his experience with Christ. When we face the trials of life, we must evaluate them in the light of what God is doing for us.
This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most. Even our Lord was able to endure the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (), the joy of returning to heaven and one day sharing His glory with His church.
Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” ().
So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome; to end with joy, begin with joy.
“But how,” we may ask, “is it possible to rejoice in the midst of trials?”
Know—an Understanding Mind ()
What do Christians know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?
Faith is always tested. When God called Abraham to live by faith, He tested him in order to increase his faith. God always tests us to bring out the best; Satan tempts us to bring out the worst. The testing of our faith proves that we are truly born again.
Testing works for us, not against us. The word trying can be translated “approval.” Again, Peter helps us understand it better: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth” (). A gold prospector brings his ore sample into the assayer’s office to be tested. The sample itself may not be worth more than a few dollars, but the approval—the official statement about the ore—is worth millions! It assures the prospector that he has a gold mine. God’s approval of our faith is precious, because it assures us that our faith is genuine.
Trials work for the believer, not against him. Paul said, “And we know that all things work together for good” (); and, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” ().
Trials rightly used help us to mature. What does God want to produce in our lives? Patience, endurance, and the ability to keep going when things are tough. “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (). In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.
Immature people are always impatient; mature people are patient and persistent. Impatience and unbelief usually go together, just as faith and patience do. “Be … followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (). “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (). “He that believeth shall not make haste” ().
God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The little child who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. When the believer learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him. Abraham ran ahead of the Lord, married Hagar, and brought great sorrow into his home (). Moses ran ahead of God, murdered a man, and had to spend forty years with the sheep to learn patience (). Peter almost killed a man in his impatience ().
Let—a Surrendered Will (, )
God does not build our character without our cooperation. If we resist Him, then He chastens us into submission. But if we submit to Him, then He can accomplish His work. He is not satisfied with a halfway job. God wants a perfect work; He wants a finished product that is mature and complete.
God builds character before He calls to service. He must work in us before He can work through us. God spent twenty-five years working in Abraham before He could give him his promised son. God worked thirteen years in Joseph’s life, putting him into “various testings” before He could put him on the throne of Egypt. He spent eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. Our Lord took three years training His disciples, building their character.
But God does not work in us without our consent. There must be a surrendered will. The mature person does not argue with God’s will; instead, he accepts it willingly and obeys it joyfully. “Doing the will of God from the heart” (). If we try to go through trials without surrendered wills, we will end up more like immature children than mature adults.
Jonah is an illustration of this. God commanded Jonah to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh, and he refused. God chastened Jonah before the prophet accepted his commission. But Jonah did not obey God from the heart. He did not grow in this experience. How do we know? Because in the last chapter of Jonah, the prophet is acting like a spoiled child! He is sitting outside the city pouting, hoping that God will send judgment. He is impatient with the sun, the wind, the gourd, the worm, and with God.
One difficult stage of maturing is weaning. A child being weaned is sure that his mother no longer loves him and that everything is against him. Actually, weaning is a step toward maturity and liberty. It is good for the child! Sometimes God has to wean His children away from their childish toys and immature attitudes. David pictured this in : “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child” (). God uses trials to wean us away from childish things; but if we do not surrender to Him, we will become even more immature.
In , money and social status were real problems among these people (see , ; , ; ). God’s testings have a way of leveling us. When testing comes to the poor man, he lets God have His way and rejoices that he possesses spiritual riches that cannot be taken from him. When testing comes to the rich man, he also lets God have His way, and he rejoices that his riches in Christ cannot wither or fade away. In other words, it is not your material resources that take you through the testings of life; it is your spiritual resources.
Ask—a Believing Heart ()
The people to whom James wrote had problems with their praying (; ). When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.
James has a great deal to say about wisdom (; ). The Jewish people were lovers of wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs gives evidence. Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together.