In the reality of this broken world and our own capacity for sin, we know that hard work is required of us in order to develop the habits of self-discipline and to acquire the wisdom that is available to us in and through the scriptures.
We would like life to be easy. Adolescents tend to believe that that is the way it ought to be and become angry when it isn’t. They are intellectually capable of seeing and desiring real and good ends, but they are not, as yet, willing to endure the trials and the complications, or the possible failures, that inevitably arise in the course of pursuing those ends. There is nothing wrong with their insight, just with their level of real life experience. The trouble is that there are a lot of people who, though they are of adult age, are not yet mature enough to delay gratification, to accept responsibility for the good and the bad consequences of their words or actions, to be dedicated completely to reality as it is, rather than as they wish it would be, or to find the balance between discipline and being able, if it is not destructive or damaging to others, to joyfully enjoy the moment. This is called self-discipline and it is the principle habit of a mature adult. Only with faith and this habit of self-discipline can we stand up to the trials that challenge our faith. And, as James tells us here in this passage, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (verses 2-3)
Perseverance is a by-product of self-discipline. It is the ability to persist in a course of action, a purpose, or in one’s faith in spite of the difficulties, obstacles, or disappointments that are inevitable in this life. It is tenacity in the face of trials. For the apostle, James, the sequence of being tested and persevering, aids us in becoming more complete, and in perfecting our faith. This is how we grow into spiritual maturity. It is how we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. This, according to James, requires wisdom. He tells us that if we lack this wisdom we should ask God for it, because, God who “gives generously to all without finding fault,” will give it to us.
This opening salvo in James’ letter gives us a true picture of what it takes to be a Christian in the real world. In the reality of this broken world and our own capacity for sin, we know that hard work is required of us in order to develop the habits of self-discipline and to acquire the wisdom that is available to us in and through the scriptures. We are not alone, though, in this effort toward spiritual maturity. God’s generosity is unlimited and when we ask him he will respond to our sincerity. He does not look at our faults, but at our sincerity of heart and gives us what we need. He does this directly through grace, but he does it also through the loving challenge, the forgiveness, understanding and support of our families, our friends, and our faith communities. It is our trust and love of God, and our sincere, humble desire to grow in our faith that draws the grace of God to us in the moments of trial. When we are tested, we can turn to God for strength and he will give it generously. When we are tested, if we turn to him, he will help us to endure and to overcome. Each time we persevere in the face of trials and tests we become stronger, more mature in our faith, because God is faithful to us and desires only what is good for us. This is why we can face trials with “pure joy.” God is with us. Thanks be to God!
If trials and tests can make us more mature in sports, or in our moral character, it is even more true that these inevitable realities of the real world can make us mature in our faith. Yes, life is difficult, but with God, we can do anything.
Lord, help us to grow in our faith. When we are tested, turn our thoughts to you. We yearn for that maturity of faith that you call us to in Christ Jesus. Strengthen us in times of trial, give us the graces we need to persevere, to learn the habits of self-discipline. But help us also, Lord, to meet these tests joyfully knowing that you are always with us. Teach us that with you we have no reason to fear the trials and tests that life can bring. We ask these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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