Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James is commanding his brothers and sisters in Christ to consider it all joy whenever they face trials. You might ask, “How can I obey that command?” Well, in order to obey that command, you need to be convinced by the following three basic truths:
- God is the one who ultimately gives you trials. God is absolutely sovereign. He is in control of everything. Nothing happens to you without His perception, permission, and purpose. Are you convinced of this reality that whatever trials you have today came from God himself?
- God gives you trials in order to test your faith: “the testing of your faith” (v. 3). God does not test us arbitrarily. He tests us with a purpose. His purpose is to examine the genuineness of our faith.
- The testing of your faith is eventually for your good: “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (v. 3). God tests your faith in order to purify it. He uses sufferings to sanctify you—to conform you to the image of his Son Jesus Christ.
Now, unless you are persuaded by these three fundamental truths, you cannot indeed consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. You cannot sing with Horatio Spafford, “It is well with my soul.” Perhaps you are familiar with the story behind this hymn. In 1871 Spafford lost his only son. Then two years later, he lost all of his four daughters. His four daughters drowned in a shipwreck. Only his wife survived. Yet, listen to his hymn:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Or, according to the original manuscript, it is not to say, but to know. Hence, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know. It is well, it is well, with my soul.” This emphasis on knowledge echoes what James writes in verse 3: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” We need to know, not just say, that God is ultimately the one who sends trials to our lives, that he is giving us trials in order to examine our faith, and that at the end all the testing of our faith is for our good. Verse 2 of Spafford’s hymn continues:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul
Here the hymn writer makes the gospel of Christ as his supreme source of comfort. Let’s admit that singing this hymn in the midst of a great trial is difficult. How can you ever sing, “It is well with my soul,” when you lost all your children? How can you pray, “May the name of the Lord be praised,” when your doctor comes to you and says, “I’m sorry. You only have a few months to live”? In and of ourselves, we cannot. But with God’s help, we can. That’s why James adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.”
Here’s the point of James. God is our teacher and we are in his classroom. God wants us to learn. Part of learning is testing. That test comes to us in various forms. Some tests are easy; some are extremely difficult. Perhaps this past week, as you were driving, one of your tires deflated. That was a trial! However, that was easy to fix. But, what if your physician informs you that you have cancer? Or, what if you are told that you will lose your house or your job? These tests are very difficult to take. That’s why, James declares, “If any of you lacks wisdom [to deal with your trial], let him ask God” (v. 5).
Note, however, that when James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom,” he is not suggesting that some of his readers are wise enough to take their tests without God’s wisdom! By this expression, James is exhorting his audience in a pastoral way. He is giving them the opportunity to examine themselves in order for them to realize their great need of God’s wisdom in the hour of trial.
Perhaps you are in a difficult situation right now and you do not know what to do, why don’t you ask wisdom from God to help you.