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James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Painful Tests and Trials
Several years ago, the men's study at our church studied James 1:1-12. We spent most of our time discussing our need to persevere during times of tests and trials, for this is a significant way in which God produces in us the character of Christ. It is one of God’s ordained means to help us grow into his “mature and complete” children.
Most of us readily acknowledge how hard, even painful, tests and trials are. We would certainly prefer not to have to experience them. That was the testimony of many of the men who shared a little of what they had been through, or were going through, in their lives.
Another Kind of Test and Trial
Shortly after that lesson I had a thought one evening as I was getting ready for bed. It occurred to me that perhaps not all of our tests and trials should be categorized as painful, though they may still be considered quite hard. The ESV Study Bible says that trials are “tests” that challenge our faith. They’re designed to create spiritual maturity in us. It goes on to say that as Jesus was tested in the wilderness, so too are his followers. We know God does not tempt us to sin. Temptation seeks to lead us into disobedience and sin. Tests are used to build us up in our faith. Could this be what James meant when he used the phrase, “trials of many kinds?” Could it be God sometimes tests us even through our really good and happy circumstances as well?
Suppose I had four healthy, happy, and full-of-life children. Furthermore, suppose these four children gave me great joy and nothing pleased me more than pouring my life into theirs – even sacrificially. But what if this true and right expression of love and commitment for my children went too far? What if this love for these four precious children actually began, slowly but ever so surely, to turn into idolatry? What if they became more important to me than God himself?
Such love and commitment would not be good at all. In fact, such love and commitment would become sin in my life. Why? Because I would, quite literally, be putting other gods before the one true God. Could it be that God tests us through such good and positive relationships, things, circumstances, and opportunities in our lives?
My Clear and Present Danger
My hypothetical description regarding my four children is not hypothetical at all. I have four such children and I treasure them. I have had to, on many occasions, ask God to help me not put my children before him. In my unguarded moments, I could essentially turn them into little idols.
The same could be true for all of us, whether we’re talking about our families, jobs, status, health, success, ingenuity, etc. Each of these could be little tests to determine whom we are worshipping, to see whom we love most?
The Reason for Trials
Why are we given trials? According to James it is to help us grow in our faith – to become more like Christ – to develop into mature and complete children of God, lacking nothing. But it’s awfully hard to become such faithfully devoted followers of Christ when we love other people or things more than we love him. It’s impossible to follow and serve God correctly when God’s not even in our top five priorities, much lesson number one.
It’s little wonder that Jesus declared we cannot serve two masters. It’s no wonder he said we must seek God and his righteousness first. It’s not hard to figure out why God’s first commandment to us was that we’re to put no other gods before Him. And it’s not surprising to understand why the Apostle John’s last verse of his first epistle reads thusly,
1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Because of our fallenness, we have a propensity to put other people, places, things, circumstances, opportunities, feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, etc., ahead of God. And anything that is in God’s place is not merely neutral – it’s an idol - an idol of the heart.
Be On Guard
The really good things God graciously blesses us with could be listed under James' category of “trials of many kinds.” It’s true we don’t think of them as trials. It’s also true they are not necessarily painful to go through. But it’s equally true that these sorts of trials can be gruelingly difficult, even if we’re not aware we’re going through them, or perhaps, especially if we’re not aware of it.
Therefore, to increasingly mature in our faith and become more like Christ, we must realize God’s tests and trials can take many shapes and sizes. We must be vigilantly on guard. For it’s critically important for us to persevere through such tests and trials so that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And by God’s grace, I pray it will be so for you.
Gracious God, I give you thanks that you are good and holy and that you do not tempt us into sin. You are not the author of our sin, but righteousness. When you test us it is always to help us grow in our faith, not so we may stumble and fall. Tests and trials of various kinds are ways in which we may discover our shortcomings and weaknesses and, therefore, seek you – your wisdom, strength, and grace to persevere and grow. Please help me to endure the hard times I go through, so that by doing so you may be glorified and others may be blessed as they see you upholding me during those tough times. And yet Lord, let me also persevere in faithfulness during the good times in my life. Enable me by your Spirit to take note of your blessings in my life and give thanks to you for them without coming to love and desire them more than you. Thank you for the good gifts in my life O Lord, for they are from you. In Christ I pray. Amen.
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.