James says that the reason we can smile in the face of trials is that our trials are measured out in order to produce a mature, steadfast faith. God wants us to grow up, and trials are the real-time, real-life circumstances that God employs to bring it about.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)
Our circumstances are not pointless or random. They have a purpose; they have design. Knowing this enables us to rejoice, even in the face of the most difficult trials.
Getting a grip on this fact calls for wisdom, says James, which God delights to give to those who ask. In order to count our trials as joy, we need wisdom. And in order to get wisdom, we need to ask.
But James also recognises a potential roadblock to receiving that wisdom. And that roadblock is doubt.
James knows that this doubting is a real problem and likens it to the anchorless waves of the sea that get tossed about by the wind (James 1:6).
Many people read this and get nervous. As if the trial wasn’t bad enough, now they have the added fear that if their prayers aren’t perfect, if their faith isn’t in top condition, then their cry to God will go unanswered.
But let’s look closely at the nature of the doubt.
The doubting man is the one who has no anchor. He’s a wave being tossed wherever the wind takes him. The problem here is not with the believer who has an anchor that he struggles to hang on to, the problem is the person who, in the midst of his trial, doesn’t know what to anchor himself to.
Consider your current trial. Are you clinging to a lawsuit to pull you through? Are you waiting for an apology from a friend to make you feel better? Is your hope in the midst of a financial trial anchored to a bank loan?
Bank loans are useful, but they make for poor anchors. Apologies are nice, but they can also be very flimsy. In other words, is your life anchored to the circumstance or is your life anchored to the God who sent it?
Consider the poor man in James 1:9,
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation…
This man has a choice. In the midst of his poverty he can rail against the “system” or his parents, or his ex-wife, or his business partner or government taxation. And in his impoverished state (his circumstance), he could anchor himself to a lottery ticket, a bank loan or a court case.
If he does, his hope and his joy will be tossed about by circumstances because that’s where his anchor is tied.
Alternatively, he can recognise that the trial is sent by God to strengthen his faith in the knowledge that true riches, reliable riches, and true hope rest in God.
He can recognise and rest in the knowledge that God has sent this trial and that perhaps it’s purpose is to remind him where true riches lie. Perhaps the trial has been sent to strengthen his faith in what is unchanging, and not in things that fade away.
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. (James 1:11)
What are you anchored to in your current trials? Do you think the bank can fix it? Do you think that an attitude change from your husband can fix it? Would compromising your faith fix it?
When considering your present circumstances, the place to start is the cross. Of that cross, Peter once said,
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed. (Acts 2:23)
Yes, secondary causes (like corrupt Pharisees and indifferent Roman courts) are real and we do have to deal with them.
But enthroned above our circumstances is the Lord. And our understanding, our wisdom and our anchor are in the Lord who, for our greater joy, is putting us through this trial so that we might learn to anchor our soul in Him and not in our futile pursuit to control the circumstances of our lives—or anyone else’s life, for that matter.
The wise will consider all of this and take it to heart (Psalm 107:43).