“Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;
and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Years ago, psychologist Scott Peck began his book The Road Less Traveled with this memorable line; “Life is difficult… Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult.” In other words, rather than continuously being disappointed because we have unrealistic expectations of life, it is better to adjust ourselves to life’s challenges, understanding that, in facing them, we grow and mature.
Here’s another way to say this: life is full of ups and downs. Showing up to work every day and doing your job well is not easy. Consistently getting your school work done can be a challenge. Being a good friend, a good spouse, or a good parent can be demanding. Managing your money, your health, and your time wisely is tough. But each of those challenges can also be deeply rewarding, providing people with meaningful life pursuits.
But first, you have to understand that life is difficult. Scripture is full of verses that combine an honest acknowledgement of life’s adversities with a faith that leans into God for strength, power, and sustenance. One assumption of the New Testament writers is that followers of Jesus will endure various hardships and that these hardships can serve a helpful purpose for the believer.
When James 1 speaks of various trials, he equates such trials with a testing of faith. Such testing can produce endurance and bring maturity. Underlying this is the conviction that adversity strengthens character. Ancient philosophers had a saying: “To learn is to suffer.” Contemporary philosopher Kelly Clarkson put it this way: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Any athlete who has undergone the rigors of training can certainly understand the reality of “No pain, no gain.”
The upshot of this is that as we face challenges, we are well-served to develop the “muscle” of doing hard things. If we understand at a fundamental level that life is difficult, we develop the mindset that sees the difficulties and understands: this is what life is. In this setting, our faith provides the strength, hope, and resources we need to overcome various challenges. God doesn’t snowplow all obstacles out of our paths, but He does empower us with strength for the challenges we face.
My prayer for each of us this week comes from Colossians 1:10-11. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”