by EmmyLou Bates

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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete. Not lacking anything.
— James 1: 2-4

It’s strange how you can read something most of your life and think you have a good grip on it only to find out you were 100 percent wrong. Prior to Sunday, when I read this opening statement: “consider it pure joy,” it wasn’t a plea but a command. An expectation formed that I have constantly fallen short of meeting. To be honest, it doesn’t come as a surprise though, because when you’re not properly prepared for battle then victory will always be a yardstick away.

Context and emphasis. Two words that don’t mean much when placed side by side, but mean everything in reality. Context influences language, behavior, and response. It has the ability to destroy or create. Within context, there’s always an emphasis to defend the importance of it all and persuade the outcome. You may be thinking while reading this, “Why is she explaining literary components to me when I thought she was going to be writing about the message from Sunday?” And if so, let me answer this silent question by saying, “you have to set the stage before the show can go on.” Pastor Jesse knew this, so when he started his message on Sunday it wasn’t a direct opening of “in life we all are going to face trials so let me tell you about how to find the joy within them so you can come out as the victor.” Instead, it began by divulging the context that James was writing in so the intent of the message was clear.

James was writing to scattered followers of Christ that were facing enduring trials of separation from their families, homes, and lives because of their faith in Jesus. I couldn’t imagine a more disheartening and desperate situation to be in. To give up seeing my family and friends, abandoning my career, and leaving behind all traces of my former life. The fact that James is saying, “consider it pure joy” in the given circumstance is a testimony in itself to his stature of faith. Transparently, if I was in that situation, I think joy would be one of the last things I would have been considering. In fact, “this is terrible” would probably be the first and joy would be very last on the list. So, it’s a good thing that those people had the wisdom of James to navigate them through troubling times.

Joy. It’s a word choice that doesn’t get utilized very often. Instead, people typically say that they feel happy, that they’re in a good mood, or (and this may be a stretch) that they’re experiencing positive vibes only. The problem with these other word choices are that they’re fleeting feelings that are influenced by the temporary things of this world. Joy, on the other hand, is defined by Pastor Jesse as, “supernatural delight.” With this definition, joy can not be found by soul-searching and purchasing material things… but only from the love of God.

In times of trial, our first thoughts tend to be, “Why God?!” You think to yourself, “I’m a good person. I try to help people when I can, I pay my taxes, I go to work every day, I provide for my family. What have I done to deserve this misfortune?” When you’re really going through the thick of it, it can feel like a test that you didn’t have time to study for and aren’t prepared to take. You can be tempted to cheat to find the answers and to seek solace in the heart of worldly possessions and love. You may even feel like God has abandoned you and you’re only doing what you must to get through it.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone, but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
— James 1:13-15

When life gets hard, it can be tempting to take the easy way out. It’s faster to skip steps and take short cuts than to go through heartache and pain. We can cover ourselves with band-aids and fill ourselves with temporary pleasures of the world, but the problem with putting a band-aid on a wound that needs sutured, is that it’ll only hold for a minute before you start bleeding out again.

In times of trial you may even wonder what the purpose of it all is. Pastor Jesse said, “We go through trials because a testing of faith produces perseverance.” A few years ago, I went through one of the most trying times of my life. In April of 2015 my grandmother passed away, in July my roommate and best friend was in a fatal car accident that declared her brain dead, and in January of 2016 one of my lifelong friend’s was victim to vehicular homicide that resulted in brain death, and in July of that year my uncle unexpectedly passed away. During this time, I was not only having to process the loss of loved ones, but also had to figure out how to afford living on my own, how to furnish my apartment, finish my final year of nursing school, and continue to work full time while being paralyzed by depression.

At that time in my life, I was what I like to call a passive Christian. I had faith but I didn’t go to church, I prayed when it was self-serving, and I read my Bible only when I felt inspired. That year I was angry at God and that WHY GOD mentality consumed my thoughts. Instead of enriching my faith and finding the joy in the trial, I spent that year as an unhappy, untrusting, and overall lonely person.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to reflect and find the joy among the sorrow. See, my friends that passed away were both organ donors and the end of their lives was the miracle that dozens prayed for. While I miss my family, I know that they are no longer suffering and are at peace. It took undergoing loss and being stripped down to the basics to change my outlook on God and seek true relationship with the Father and Son. On Sunday Pastor Jesse also said, “until you’ve been tested, you can’t be trusted.”  Back then, I wasn’t a woman that could’ve been trusted to shepherd the flock, but because of who I became as a result, I can stand firm with my staff.

When in a season of trial, instead of hiding, cowering, and falling into traps of temptation, we have to embrace the challenge. We need to find the joy in it and, believe me when I say, I know that is easier said than done. To do so, three things are needed: The person of God, the purpose of God, and the people of God. When you’re in a time of trial, reflect on who God is and what He’s done for you. Think about the purpose of God. God is good and loves you. He isn’t out to hurt you but wants to strengthen you into a mighty warrior. Trials of faith can produce blessings of purpose. Lastly, lean on the people of God. Surround yourself in a community of people who can share strength and testimony to get you through all seasons of life.

Temptation will always be around and when we’re at our most vulnerable is when it will be the most appealing. It works as a scapegoat and distracts us from the love of God. It leads us to believe that we are weak and can’t carry the load that God has given us. The truth is, when lean on ourselves in the face of trial and fall into temptation, we never see prosperity as the outcome because we’re planting seeds in barren soil.

In order to combat temptation, we must crucify the flesh and run to God. We have to acknowledge our humanity and admit to one other our faults and struggles. If we allow God’s grace to fill our hearts, there isn’t room for insecurity, doubt, and fear to harbor temptation. Once we’re able to distinguish the temptations of our lives, we can then run towards the pursuit of God in response. When we unveil ourselves to each other and God, there is no trial that is too grand and no temptation that can’t be fought. We will stand united in victory as strong soldiers under the reign of God.

Pastor Jesse Norman opens up our summer series "The Book of James.”

James teaches us that after an experience with amazing grace, and great faith, we can experience great works!