A new year, a fresh start, different opportunities, hope—all come to mind when we think of a new year. I fully intended to write from that perspective. I wanted to search the Scriptures and see what God has to say about new things and starting fresh, but I’m shelving that idea for now. I’m shelving that idea because…well, because sometimes a new year means continuing in the same. For us, it means continued waiting for the Lord to bring a church for Jack to pastor. Instead of quickly slipping into ministry, as we thought would happen 3 years ago, the Lord has taken us so deeply into the wilderness and on such a twisted track that the only way we’ll ever find our way out is when the Lord leads us. So, for us, for right now, another new year means more of the same.
I read these words in James 1:12 yesterday, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” What caught my eye was the “under” part. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial. That sentence of course means that there are those who are still in the midst of the trial. They are remaining “in” it.
This follows what James said earlier in the chapter in verses 2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Those verses contain enough fodder to nourish our souls for many weeks, but I want to direct your attention to the part about letting trials have their perfect result.
Trials have a purpose. They produce a perfected faith and a completed character. You know this; I know this. The difficulty comes in staying still while God does His work in us with that trial.
So, the first thing we need to consider is just how do we persevere under trial? Here are some ways I’m applying these words to “persevere under trial”:
- Don’t look to others or things to fix the situation. Psalm 33:16-17, “The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.” This no-no is so tempting and can be so subtle that we aren't immediately aware we are doing it.
- Place your hope in the Lord. On the heels of the admonition not to put our hope in outside rescuers, we read in Psalm 130:5-7, “I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption.” The earnest desire of the psalmist to wait and hope in the Lord more than that night watchman looking to the east for the rising sun compellingly brings my heart back to the Lord. Our God is a God of deliverances (Psalm 68:20).
- Reign in your thoughts so you think rightly about the Lord and your circumstances. James understood our tendency to grumble at God or grow bitter toward God when times get hard, that’s why he lovingly reminds us not to give in to that temptation in James 1:13-16. And it’s also why immediately after he reminds us that every “gift” and circumstance is good and perfect and comes from God Himself (see James 1:17). Listen to this prayer from Fenelon, “Let me, O my God, stifle forever in my heart every thought that would tempt me to doubt Thy goodness. I know that Thou can only be good [Fenelon, Dictionary of Burning Words, page 262].” Reminding ourselves of God’s character helps us remain under our trials.
- Fill your heart with Scriptures to strengthen and encourage you. Isaiah 49:15-16 has been a balm to me, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” It’s so good to know the Lord has not forgotten us.
Even if your New Year looks like more of the same like ours does, we have the promises of James 1:12 to help us “stay put.” Verse 12 tells us those who persevere are blessed and that with the enduring comes approval that we have passed the test. And at the end of the test, we will receive the crown of life from the Lord Himself, which He promised to all who love Him. Your patient enduring of the trials the Lord has given you reveals your love for Christ, for only those who love Him persevere.