The Beauty of Faith in the Middle of Trials - Radical

The Beauty of Faith in the Middle of Trials

It’s easy to say we trust the Lord and talk about his goodness when life seems to be going well, but when trials come our way, our faith is put to the test. What we trust in is exposed. In this message from James 1:1–12 from David Platt, we see how, by God’s grace, trials can actually serve to strengthen our faith. We can even have joy in trials—but only when God is our ultimate goal.

Now let’s dig into the book of James in the Bible—a book about the beauty of faith. We’re going to use that phrase very intentionally, because the book of James is about authentic, true faith, as opposed to artificial faith. The book of James is going to make clear that it’s possible for any one of us to think that we have true saving faith in Christ, when we don’t. This means we could approach this book by just asking do you have true faith or not? We will hear this question from God as we walk through James. Our hope and prayer is that, more than just asking about our faith, we will find ourselves allured by the beauty of true faith in such a way that we will find ourselves saying, “I want more of that.” And in such a way that people around us in the world would say, “I want that. I don’t want some faint, surface-level, cultural version of faith in God that doesn’t really affect my life. I want the real thing in ways that revolutionize my life.” 

Let’s start by looking at the beauty of faith in the midst of trials—the beauty of faith in the middle of the hardest, darkest moments in life. So let’s hear from God by reading James 1:1–12: 

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

Let’s see the context of what we just read and the whole book of James. The author clearly is James, but we’re not sure exactly which James this might be. Most people believe this is the half-brother of Jesus who was a leader. Some say he was the primary leader of the church in Jerusalem. That’s important because when Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr, was stoned in Jerusalem, the church in Jerusalem was scattered into all different parts of Judea and Samaria and beyond. 

So James writes this letter to the 12 tribes—that’s a symbolic picture of God’s people from the Old Testament, now applied to the New Testament as the church—that were dispersed from their homes in Jerusalem and scattered as refugees because of persecution. Just that context helps us understand why the first words out of the chute to these people who have been scattered as refugees is James saying, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” Verses two and 12 serve as kind of bookends to this passage. Trials are mentioned in verse two; then verse 12 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” This is clearly a passage about how to walk through trials. This is applicable to those men and women who had been dispersed from Jerusalem, but is also applicable to men and women in all times and all places. 

We all know what it’s like to meet trials of various kinds. let me read from something entitled, “Life is a Trial.” It’s kind of long, but I think it’s worth reading. 

A high school senior lives in tension. He is, at long last, king of the hill, the privileged one. On the other hand, classes are still long and boring, homework is banal. At home, he still faces curfews and chores. He looks around and asks, “Is this what I’ve been waiting for all my life? There must be more. I’m tired of school, tired of books, tired of teachers. I’m tired of my room, my parents, my activities. I can’t wait to get out on my own, to do a thousand new things. When graduation comes, then my trials will be over.”

So our young man goes to college. He is free! But he is a chemistry major, perpetually in the lab and working part time to cover his expenses. By his senior year, he has a serious girlfriend. They begin to think about marriage but haven’t been together long enough to be sure. Then he gets a job in Dallas, 800 miles from his sweetheart, who will be teaching third grade. 

Absence makes their hearts grow fonder. They work harder than ever to master their new professions, but they are lonely and tired of being apart. They decide to marry. Gazing into each other’s eyes and saying, “We will be together forever. Soon our trials will be over.”

The honeymoon comes and goes. They set up house in a small apartment. On his first day of work, he showers and starts to shave, but he can hardly see himself, because stockings draped over the mirror are blocking his view. Oh, how she spends money! And she still expects him to demonstrate his love with flowers and dates. He thinks, “What do you mean, you want tokens of love? I married you. Why do you need tokens?” 

Of course, he causes a few trials, too. At the table he eats as if he were back at the fraternity. When he sleeps, he thrashes about their bed as if he is re-enacting an Olympic decathlon. Eventually they sort things out. That trial is over. Now they want a baby. But one year, then two years, go by without success. But then, just as they prepare to meet the physicians, she conceives! They say, “Now our trials are over!”

I will not recount the trials of pregnancy—the nausea and mood swings. Let’s travel forward eight months. They have a healthy girl. Mother and daughter leave the hospital and spend their first night at home. The baby is in bed, the parents lie down, saying, “Our marriage is strong, our baby is home.” They drift off to sleep thinking, “Our trials are over.” In an instant, they’re awake! The baby is crying! Why? She’s dry. She’s not hungry. She’s crying for no reason whatsoever. So the trials of parenthood begin.

In every stage of a child’s life, the parents tell themselves, “The next phase will be easier when we can sleep through the night, when the baby can understand us and we can understand her. When we are done with diapers, then it will be easier. 

When they are old enough to go to school. When they become more independent. When they can drive so we no longer spend endless hours chauffeuring them to soccer games and clarinet lessons. Yes, when they can drive, then our trials will be over. When they go to college and stop fussing about curfews, we stop wondering where they are. They may never come in, but at least we won’t know. Then our trials will be over.”

Work is no different. Trials never end, things never settle down. If the economy is thriving, the company is growing and our work is respected. There’s too much to do. The trials are overwork and exhaustion. Or if the economy is cool or there is not enough business, then income is down and the job is in jeopardy. 

Then trials continue after retirement. We miss the camaraderie, the respect, the friendships of work. We have too much time on our hands. Health issues surface. We may wonder if we laid aside enough money to fund our remaining years. 

From our childhood home to the retirement home, what is constant is that our trials are not over. 

What I just read covers some of the most basic everyday trials. This doesn’t mention tragedies or a lot of other really heavy trials that come along the way. This doesn’t talk about when you have a desire to be married, but singleness continues. Or when you get married and marriage doesn’t work out like you planned. It doesn’t mention when you have that desire for children but it doesn’t happen, or when your baby doesn’t come home healthy. It doesn’t mention when relationships with your kids or parents are marked by pain and heartache. It doesn’t mention mental health challenges, emotional health challenges. It doesn’t mention days, months, years when you’re not sure you even want to go on. There’s no mention of physical sickness or disease. It doesn’t even mention the trials that come specifically because of following Jesus, which is the whole context here in James. 

Many if not most of the recipients getting this letter were scattered from their homes as refugees. They were poor because they were Christians. Many of them were losing their jobs because of their faith. They were being taken to court by those who opposed them. They were being oppressed, all because they were following Jesus. All this to say, “trials of various kinds” is a loaded phrase with which we are all familiar.

Today, what trials are you bringing into this gathering? It’s overwhelming to look out over this gathering and think about all the trials represented  here right now. So what are we to do with this command from God in James? This is just one of 59 commands in this book—and there are only five chapters. That’s an average of over ten commands per chapter. The whole book starts with a command: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” You’re probably thinking, “Count it all joy? That’s the command? Is This some fantasy world?” 

It sounds impossible when you think about trials in our lives. Maybe it even comes across as old or offensive. But it’s not. I want to show you that this command, starting in verse two of James, is a powerful picture of the kindness of God. I want to show you that it is supernaturally possible to have joy—real, true joy—“when you meet trials of various kinds.” If that’s true, wouldn’t you want that? If trials reveal a beauty in faith, don’t you want the kind of faith that is able to turn trials into joy? What does that mean? 

Let’s start by understanding what that does not mean. That does not mean when you meet trials of various kinds, put a smile on your face and pretend like everything is awesome. Based on the rest of the Bible, James 1:2 does not mean that when the trials of life come crashing down on a fellow Christian, your first words to them should be, “Pure joy, brother. Consider it joy, sister.”

Think about when Jesus was approached by Martha and Mary after their brother Lazarus had died. Even though Jesus knew God had a good and awesome purpose that they were about to see just moments later, what did he do? He wept with them. In our church’s Bible reading last week, we read this  in 2 Corinthians 1: 3–4: “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.”

The Bible exhorts us to comfort one another, to weep with one another, to bear each other’s burdens. As we do these things, James says we should count it joy. Why? He tells us why in verse three, “For you know…” 

So as we walk through this, hear what the Holy Spirit is saying in this text. In order to experience joy in trials, there’s something you need to know about the testing of your faith, which is another way of referring to trials. Trials are tests of our faith. We say we believe God is good, God is great, God is worthy of all our trust and all our worship. That’s easy to say when things are going great, but what about when life is not going well and our faith is tested? 

The Bible says you can count trials as joy because you know these tests of your faith are producing something. Do you see that? This is really important. It’s not that we have joy over a trial in and of itself. Instead, our joy is found in knowing what trials produce. Look at what they produce. They produce steadfastness, endurance, perseverance. It’s interesting that we see this word again in verse 12. Remember? “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial…when he has stood the test.” This is the same language we see in the bookends of this passage.

So when we go through tests in our faith and we hold on to faith, there is an otherworldly endurance that’s developed. To be clear, there’s an adversary in this world who does not want your faith to endure through trial. There is an adversary who wants to use trials in this world to destroy your faith. Amidst all the trials you’re bringing into this gathering right now, he has an aim to use those trials to destroy your faith. He wants to use hard days to lead you to lose hope, to lead you to let go of your faith, to leave God behind. Even just to loosen some of your grasp on God. If you let the adversary have a foothold in your faith in the middle of trial, he will take you to dark places. You will not benefit from letting go of God and giving in to the adversary in the middle of a trial.

If you hold fast, trials will produce an enduring faith that is beautiful beyond explanation. This is from 1 Peter. Turn just a couple pages to the right in your Bible and look at this language in 1 Peter 1:6-7. It’s almost identical. Peter, also writing to suffering and persecuted Christians, says:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

Did you see that language? “In this you rejoice…” Count it all joy, even as “you have been grieved by various trials…” When you meet trials of various kinds,  the “genuineness of your faith” is tested. When you hold on to this faith through testing, when you don’t give in to the adversary, these trials will produce a faith that is “more precious than gold.” See the beauty here. There is a worth and a beauty to a kind of faith that holds on. When it is tested through trials, it becomes more precious than gold in a way that yields surprising joy. 

So how do trials produce this kind of faith, this kind of joy in our lives? Let me show you from James. 

1. Trials lead us to grow in the likeness of God.

This is not just the first purpose of trials in this passage; it’s actually the ultimate purpose of our entire lives according to the Bible—the whole Bible, not just the book of James—so you’ve got to see this here in James. This testing of your faith produces steadfastness, endurance—we’ve talked about that but that’s not where it ends. “Let steadfastness have its full effect…” What’s the effect of a steadfast faith? “That you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Well, that seems like a good goal. That’s actually the ultimate goal of our lives. So let’s zoom out for a minute to the whole Bible. In the very beginning of the Bible—Genesis 1—man and woman are created in the image or the likeness of God. They have a perfect relationship with God. They lack nothing. The problem is, just three chapters into the Bible, man and woman decide not to trust God anymore and they sin against God. The image and likeness of God becomes marred in them and their relationship with God is broken. Whereas they used to lack no good thing, now they lack many things. This is where not just sin entered the world, but also suffering and eventually death, along with trials of every kind. There were no trials before sin. Now there are trials in a world where every man and woman—this is where we come into the story—sins against God, where the image and likeness of God is marred in every one of us. Our relationships with God are broken and we lack many things. We experience various trials that are inevitable in this fallen, broken world. Yet the Bible is the story, from the very beginning, about how God loves us and pursues us. He doesn’t leave us alone in this brokenness. Ultimately God comes to us himself in the person of Jesus. 

Jesus lives a sinless life, unlike us, then even though he has no sin to die for, he chooses to die on a cross to pay the price for our sin. Then three days later, he rises from the grave in victory over sin, Satan, suffering and death itself. That means anyone, anywhere—no matter what their sin has looked like —who trusts in Jesus and God’s love, then God will forgive all their sin and restore them to relationship with him forever. 

Here’s how this relationship plays out. This is the Christian life, where day by day you grow closer and closer and closer to God. You’re being remade, conformed, transformed into his image—into his likeness—until one day that transformation will be totally complete. This is where the Bible ends. One day, all who trust in Jesus will be fully restored to God, free from all sin, all suffering and death, free to enjoy God and each other forever in perfect and complete harmony, lacking nothing. That’s where the story ends; that’s the ultimate goal of our lives—to be restored to God and his likeness. 

Here’s how the Bible talks about this. I’ll list a bunch of verses and fly through them. 

  • Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” That’s the day I’m looking forward to. I will be with you, transformed into your likeness. 
  • Romans 8:28–30: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” See it? God is working together all things, including trials, for good, for his purpose. And what is his purpose? That we might be conformed to his image and ultimately be glorified with him. That’s what all things are working together for; that’s the ultimate goal. This is the daily Christian life. 
  • Second Corinthians 3:18. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” As this is happening in our lives, as we’re becoming more and more like Jesus, growing closer and closer to God. 
  • Philippians 3: 20–21 says we are waiting: “We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” 
  • Colossians 3:10 talks about how we put on a “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” 
    • First John 3:2 sums it up: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” We’re going to be with God, seeing God. We will be perfectly transformed into his image, which is the way we were made to be, lacking in nothing. 

The ultimate goal of our lives is to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, the way James 1:2 describes it. James is saying, “If trials are leading us to this goal—being perfect and complete, lacking in nothing—then you can count them as joy, because this goal is really good. It’s the greatest goal.” 

Now, here’s the deal. My mind goes in two different directions here. First, for those of you who are visiting today—maybe you’re not a Christians, but you’re here with a friend, or maybe you’re exploring Christianity—I hope you are seeing the good news that this world, with all its trials, is not all there is. The trials in this world are not ultimate. They’re not the end of the story. I hope you’re seeing that trials in this world reveal to us that things are not as they should be. They’re not right. Whether you realize it or not, God has put inside of you a longing for another world where everything will be made right. You were not created to experience pain, heartache, loss, depression, cancer, aging, a body breaking down, the sorrow of family members or friends suffering or dying. All the feelings, emotions, hurts and heartaches you experience in trials are coming from a heart that longs for more, that was made for more, where everything is made right by the one who made you. Trials will only be joy when they draw us toward this ultimate goal. 

I hope you are seeing today that God loves you so much. He wants to be with you and for you to be with him. He wants to help you in the middle of trials here and ultimately to lead you into perfect and complete harmony with him forever in heaven, where you will lack nothing. I hope you are seeing that Jesus endured the ultimate trial and died on a cross in love for you to make all of this possible for you. I hope you will put your faith in him.

This then leads to those of us who are Christians, who do put our faith in Jesus. And here’s the challenge. This is the other direction. Many of us as Christians forget the ultimate goal of our lives is closeness to God and likeness to God. If we’re not careful, we can start to live just like everybody else in the world. We can think the goal of our lives is to be successful in this world, to be comfortable in this world, to be liked by others in this world. We want to be smart, talented. We want a nice job, a nice family that looks a certain way, kids or parents who act a certain way. If we’re not careful, our goals will be focused on experiencing this or that in this world, whatever it may be. And when that’s the case and when trials come, we will never count them joy, because they’ll keep us from our goals. So follow this. This means that if we’re going to be able to count trials as joy, we have to reorient our lives around an altogether different goal. 

2. Trials are only joy when God is our ultimate goal.

This goes back to what we saw a couple weeks ago when we were talking about waiting. Trials are only joy when God is our ultimate goal. If our goal is ease, comfort, success or certain circumstances in our lives, families, school or work, then we will experience no joy in trials. Instead, we will experience constant anxiety, worry, fear, frustration, depression, despair, instability, insecurity. As long as our goal is getting our circumstances the way we want them, then we will bounce up and down throughout our lives amidst the waves of trials in this world.

However, if your ultimate goal is not to fix your circumstances, but your ultimate goal is to know and grow closer to God, then you can rejoice because no matter what your circumstances are, you will achieve your goal and will always, always, always be secure. You will have strength no matter how weak you get. You will have a supernatural peace that surpasses understanding. You will have a hope that conquers all despair. You will have a love that casts out all fear.

Why? Because you will have God himself, more and more every day. Then one day, perfectly and completely in him, you will lack no good thing. That’s a good goal. God is a good goal. Trials will be joy when God is your goal. Do you see how James 1:3 and this kind of faith requires a radically God-centered perspective of life? It’s totally different than the perspective of life this world around us has. 

As I was meditating on this even more this morning, I noticed this text doesn’t describe all the specifics of how trials lead us to become closer to God, to the likeness of God. We often wonder, “God, why this trial. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. How in any way is this trial producing anything good?” That’s what’s so interesting about this passage. We don’t always know the answer to our questions. “Why this? Why that?” That’s the point of faith. That’s the point of this text. We can know that in trials, which produce steadfastness and will lead us to become perfect and lacking in nothing, we will experience growth in godliness like we could never experience any other way. So we trust God. That’s where this is going, and we’re going to trust him to lead us there. That’s faith. That’s the beauty of faith. Superficial cultural Christianity doesn’t get us there. 

This picture of trust actually leads us to the second effect of trials that James highlights here.

3. Trials teach us to trust in the wisdom of God.

It’s so interesting, isn’t it, how James ends verse four by saying, “Okay, one day we’re going to be lacking in nothing.” That’s the goal when we’re perfectly with God. But now, particularly in the middle of trials, we are lacking. What does he say in verse five that we’re lacking now? “If any of you lacks…”—he uses the same word—“…wisdom.” When we’re walking through trials, we can think of all kinds of things we lack. Why is wisdom at the top of the list here? Why is wisdom the one thing we are commanded to seek? 

This is the second command in James—ask God for wisdom. Out of all the things we could ask for and  based on the rest of the Bible, there are many things we can and should ask for in trials. It’s good to ask God for healing, reconciliation,  resolution, changes in our circumstances. It’s right to ask for these things. But above all these things, why ask for wisdom? 

See what the Bible is saying here. There is a God who knows all things and sees all things. He  is working all things together for the good of those who are trusting in him. In other words, the God who is all wise is working all things together for good. Not only is he all wise, but check this out: He does not keep his wisdom to himself. He gives it “generously.” You could take out this word generously and this verse would still have the same meaning. He gives it “to all without reproach.” The Holy Spirit adds this word “generously” to “all” —to anybody who asks— “without reproach.” What a great phrase. Nobody has to be afraid or ashamed or embarrassed to ask God for wisdom. Just ask God, the author of all wisdom, to give you wisdom and it will be given to you. That’s a promise. 

When you’re walking through trials and you can’t see straight, this is amazing. God says, “I’ll help you see. Just ask me.” When you’re walking through trials and you don’t know what to do next, God says, “I will lead you every step of the way. Just ask me. I’m not stingy with my wisdom. I give it generously.” 

Many of you have heard me talk about my dad before. He’s one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. I would give anything to have just one more conversation with him—and it would be a really long one. I have so much to learn. I would just love to sit and pepper him with questions about life and parenting and a lot more things. I would just sit back and listen. But brothers and sisters, I have something infinitely better. God, the ruler of the world and the creator of wisdom is my Father. He has made infinite wisdom available to me any time I need it, about anything. And not just for me. He’s made it available for you. To anybody who asks, he says, “I’ve got storehouses of it for you. Just ask me,  then trust me. Ask in faith, then trust that I’ll give it.” No doubting. If you doubt you’ll be “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.” 

See the contrast here: Fow faith in the middle of a trial brings stability, while lack of faith brings instability. To be clear, it’s not that when we ask for wisdom, all of a sudden we become omniscient like God, that instantly we see and understand everything completely. No, we’re not God. But God is saying very clearly here, “I will give you the wisdom you need in the moment you’re walking through. I will give it generously. Just ask me and trust me. As you trust my wisdom, I will personally lead you through.” Don’t doubt that. Even when it’s not easy, even when it doesn’t make sense, believe that God—the author and giver of wisdom—is with you and for you. 

Some of you know what it’s like to share life with somebody for a while. You’ve gone through hard times with them, and in those hard times that person makes decisions that in the moment you weren’t sure about, but in the end, you realize they were wise. You grow to trust that person more the next time something happens. This is God’s design. He is perfectly wise and utterly generous with his wisdom. The more we walk through trials with him, the more those trials will teach us that trust is wisdom. So we can count it joy, because these trials are leading us to the likeness of God. They’re teaching us to trust in the wisdom of God.

4. Trials remind us to rely on the resources of God.

Now don’t miss what God is saying here in verses 9-11. James starts talking about the lowly, the poor and the rich. He says the rich man will fade away in the midst of his pursuits. The point seems pretty clear and we need to hear it. We’re going to see this language throughout James, contrasting the rich and the poor. We need to hear it especially coming from a place and time in the world when we are some of the wealthiest people who ever walked planet Earth. 

James is clearly saying here that the riches of this world cannot sustain you through trials. The Bible is clearly teaching this and God is clearly telling us this right now. Two times James mentions that the rich will pass away, fade away, in the midst of his pursuits. These verses are reminding us—God is shouting to us— “Do not trust in riches. Don’t trust in the resources of this world. Do not look to them for safety, security or stability in this world. They will not last. They’re passing and fading away. They will leave you empty. 

Specifically regarding trials, money cannot solve your problems. Possessions—no matter how much you try to pacify your hurts with them—cannot heal your hurts. The things of this world cannot provide what only the God over this world can provide. Trials lead us to joy when they remind us of the wealth of resources we have in God, especially as the resources of this world are stripped away from us. 

5. Trials drive us to live for the reward of God.

James writes in verse 12, “Blessed is the man…” In that language, we’re going to see different times in the book of James that he is alluding to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

So we’ve talked about trials and standing the test. Now we read about receiving “the crown…” When you hear this word “crown,” don’t picture some gem-studded headpiece worn by a king or a queen. Most original readers of this letter would have heard this word and immediately thought about a wreath that was put on an athlete’s head at the end of a race that he or she has won. That’s the imagery here: running a hard race, getting to the end as a victor, then being ready to receive a crown. 

What is the crown? It’s the “crown of life.” Let’s hear what God is saying to us about what is coming at the end of trials in this world. It’s life in the world to come. It’s life with God, eternal life with God that he has promised. He’s promised it to those who love what? Those who love ease? Those who love comfort? Those who love success in this world? Those who love being liked in this world? Those who love the things of this world? No. It’s promised to those who love him. To those who keep their eyes, hearts and minds fixed on God. This is the foundation of your joy: a love relationship with God himself. For all who love him, in the end you can rejoice in trials because you know what’s coming at the end of this race. You know that these trials will not have the last word in your life. You can rejoice in trials, because you know that as you hold fast to your faith in the race, one day you are going to stand before God himself. Then God himself is going to take a crown of life and  put it on you. He’s going to wipe every tear from your eyes. He’s going to say for the first time ever in your life, “All your trials are now over! All pain is over. All suffering is over. All sorrow is over. There are no more tears here. There’s no more heartache here. There’s no more brokenness in this place. There’s no more conflict. There are no more hard days. There are no more sleepless nights. There’s no more loneliness. There’s no more discouragement. No more broken dreams. No more depression. No more cancer. No more disease. No more death. There’s no more fear here. There’s just joy. There’s just everlasting, never ending, eternal joy in this place.” 

That’s what’s coming for all who remain steadfast. So brothers and sisters, when you know that’s coming, when you face trials in this world, hold fast because the God who loves you will use these trials to grow you in his likeness. He will use these trials to teach you to trust in his wisdom. He will supply you with every resource you need in the middle of them. One day, his reward will be put on your head by him.

I have a fundamental question from the end of this verse. Do you love him? Do you have a love relationship with God? That’s the ultimate question. Do you have a love relationship with God through faith in Jesus? It’s only possible through Jesus’ death on the cross for your sin, trusting in him to save you and be the Lord of your life and reconcile you to God. Do you have a love relationship with God? Do you have that kind of faith? 

I’m not asking if you’ve gone to church. I’m not asking if you do a million kind of Christian things. Do you have a love relationship with God through Jesus? If your answer to that question is not a resounding yes in your heart, I urge you right now in this holy moment, to pray this: 

“God, I want you. I need you. I want to be reconciled to you. I need you to save me from my sin. I need you to be my hope, my joy and my life. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sin. I believe he rose from the dead. I trust you to save me from my sin, by your love, not based on what I do, but based on what you have done for me. I say yes, I want a love relationship with you as my God forever.” 

If you ask God for that, he gives that to all who ask. He will give that to you now, as you ask. And for all, whether you’re just beginning that love relationship with him or you can say, “Yes, I already know God,” I want to give you just a moment to lay your trials before him in a fresh way today. The trials you’re walking through right now, maybe even trials you’ve walked through in the past, still cause a lot of hurt. Lay those before God. Or maybe it’s trials that are coming, that you don’t even know are coming. Just say, “God, I lay these things before you. I pray that you would use them to lead me closer to you. Help me trust in your wisdom. Supply all the resources I need. Help me keep my eyes fixed on the reward to come.” 

Spend a few moments, just between you and God, turning over the trials in your life so him.

Observation: What does the passage say?

  1. Read James 1:1–12 aloud. 
  • From the references to trials in this passage, what might you observe about their nature? (vv. 2–4, 12)
  • From the references to the Lord in this passage, what might you observe about His nature? (vv. 5–8, 12)
  • From the references to man across this passage, what might you observe about our nature?
  • What other noteworthy observations might you share?  
  1. How would you explain or summarize today’s passage in your own words? 

Interpretation: What does the passage mean? 

  1. For the believer, what are the Lord’s purposes through trials in (or amid) their life? (cf. 1 Peter 1:6–7) 
  2. For the believer, what might distract him/her from the Lord’s purposes through trials in (or amid) their life? (James  1:10–11) 

Application: How can we apply this passage to our lives?

  1. How do you normally react to trials in (or amid) your life, and why? 
  • How have your personal trials impacted your faith? What fuels this impact? 
  • How has your faith impacted your personal perspective on and experience with trials? What fuels this impact? 
  1. How (i.e., on what grounds) might it be possible to genuinely know the joy of the Lord amid trials? (cf. Nehemiah 8:1–12) 
  2. In what ways do you desire the Lord to lead you into a deeper understanding and apprehension of himself and his work, particularly during trials? Spend time as a group praying toward these ends

James 1:1-12 ESV

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 

Testing of Your Faith 

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith,  with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose  that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For  the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the  midst of his pursuits. 

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has  promised to those who love him. 

SERMON RECAP 

Faith that holds fast when tested through trials is more precious than gold. 

  • Trials lead us to grow in the likeness of God. 
  • Trials are only joy when God is our ultimate goal. 
  • Trials teach us to trust in the wisdom of God. 
  • Trials remind us to rely on the resources of God. 
  • Trials drive us to live for the reward of God.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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