Growing Pains

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, January 13, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

We are in the middle of January, which means the NFL Playoffs are in full swing. That may not mean anything to you, but I always enjoy the stories behind the people involved. This year, one of the “underdog” teams to make the playoffs was the Indianapolis Colts. They are led by their head coach, Frank Reich. I have been watching football long enough to remember when Frank, who has always been a bit of an underdog himself, led his Buffalo Bills to the greatest comeback victory in NFL playoff history over the Houston Oilers in 1993. Frank went to high school only a half hour from where I did, then was mainly a backup quarterback at the University of Maryland until a similar epic comeback in a game against the Miami Hurricanes, then served as a career backup in the NFL until he got his chance in that playoff game. Only a few weeks after that game, his team was blown out in the Super Bowl by the Dallas Cowboys. Frank’s career of waiting for his chance, succeeding initially, then failing on the biggest stage of all has given him a healthy perspective regarding life’s trials and what God really wants for us.

According to this article at The Gospel Coalition, Frank Reich is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ who went from football player, to president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, to interim pastor, to football coach. At every step of his journey, he has learned to trust in God to get him through the difficult times. There was a time in his life that football had become a false god to him, so he learned to accept what God was doing and re-prioritize his life when football was briefly taken away. As he learned to deal with failure the more he matured as a player and a Christian man, he accepted that followers of Jesus could see the blessing of drawing closer to God in ALL circumstances. I don’t know whether the Colts will still be alive in the playoffs by the time this post is published or not, but I do know that Frank understands that God has something for him to learn and some area of faith for him to grow either way.

This is the essence of what James wrote to the earliest Christians in James 1:2-4. He urges them to “consider it pure joy” anytime they find themselves facing hardships. That’s not our typical reaction to hardship, though. We are complainers by nature and often find ourselves questioning God on His plans rather than submitting, accepting, and choosing to have joy. But that’s exactly what joy is - a CHOICE. James makes this clear when he puts the challenge to his readers in the imperative form. He’s not saying they should maybe possibly think about giving this a try; like Nike, he’s saying, “Just DO it."

I want to point out, though, that James is not telling believers to be joyful FOR the trials, but IN them. This is a common way that this passage is misunderstood. We see these verses and think that we are supposed to in some way be thankful for the bad things that happen in our lives. That’s completely unreasonable! My wife and I have a family close to us who lost their 19-month-old daughter to a tragic accident two months ago. Who is going to be joyful about that! James gets that there are going to be things that absolutely wreck our world. We’re not talking about losing a measly football game or two; there are much bigger hardships that people faced in James’ day and still face now. Christians faced intense persecution back then and today, Christians are still being martyred all over the world.

The point on which James is urging us to stand is that nothing surprises God. He is always in control and because of that, we can choose joy no matter what is happening. There is a separation that has to take place in our minds. We must separate how it feels to experience the hardship from the joy we have in knowing that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We might even pray and ask God to take away the pain and hardship while still accepting that He is in control and knows what is best.

It’s interesting that James tells us in verse 3 that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Hardship for the faithful produces perseverance, but it does NOT produce faith. James is talking to those who have a foundation of faith but have a tendency to slide away from it every now and then. The New King James Version of James 1:3 translates the same word for perseverance as “patience." But it’s not the type of passive patience you need when you’re sitting in traffic or your co-workers are getting on your last nerve. Rather, it’s the type of active patience that perseveres. It’s the patience that allows you to endure pain to finish the task. A marathon runner probably feels pain or cramps long before that 26th mile but patiently accepts it, knowing it will come to an end and the reward will be great. Often, we don’t even know when the trial will end or how much longer we’ll have to endure it. So, the only way to have joy is to trust that God is at work and is using it to our ultimate benefit.

This type of attitude or view of our trials does not happen automatically. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages." I guarantee you that even Spurgeon didn’t enjoy being “slammed against the rock” at first. Who does? There may have been grumbling and complaining, which do not produce perseverance but only bitterness. When we realize that the bitterness toward God or the ones causing our hardships really only destroys ourselves, that is when we must come back to James’ exhortation to “consider it pure joy." Another way of saying this would be how the Apostle Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Once again, we are talking about something that is active and not passive. Hardships threaten to turn us against the knowledge of God and his goodness, but when we willingly choose to take those thoughts captive, we can find joy even in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances.

James tells us that, while there is no easy way to do this, the simplest path to finding joy in trials is thinking about our knowledge of the gain. He says in verse 4 that, as we persevere, we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." The truth is that no matter how “complete” we feel, the difficulties reveal to us the areas where we are lacking. That’s why the trials can be a blessing in disguise. Without them, we’d go on thinking that we are doing just fine and don’t need anything. Ultimately, we need the Lord every hour of every day and that is never more obvious to us than when we are suffering. As you experience hard times this week, trust that God has a purpose in it and that He will sustain you if you trust in him and patiently endure.

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