~By Sharon Czerwien
In the previous blog post, we considered the “unexpected” value or purpose of the "junker van" that was randomly parked near my house. You can read it here.
This blog post continues the line of thought about purpose on our bumpy road.
What if our life’s trials seem ugly and awful?
Let us consider what the Bible teaches in the book of James. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Core: Biblical Principles for When Life Gets Bumpy:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
When a trial strikes, what is our first response? Do we count it as joy? In the initial moments, when I am bumped, I sometimes exhibit more frustration and internal grumbling than joy. It can take me time to step aside and think through what the Bible teaches on this topic.
So, what does James mean when he said to “count it all joy” when you are in a trial? One of my former professors, Dr. Kevin Carson, said this about when we are in the thick of things: “Joy grows out of reasoned evaluation. Rather than reckless emotion, you stop, think, and evaluate. You know what God is doing in the circumstance and know the mercy and comfort of God. So, you can reason that the circumstance is a joy-filled circumstance.”[i]
We are not being asked to rejoice over the pain. We are not required to say: yay, yay, yay, we are in the midst of pain! We can, however, rejoice over the effects. We can rejoice in the result, which is spiritual growth.
Specifically, how are trials designed to grow us? The testing of our faith produces patience (verse 3). This term carries the idea of endurance. Carson states that, “Endurance looks like developing permanent inner strength. We have to consider the big picture. The goal is not to get out of the circumstance, the goal is to be godly through it.”[ii]
What do perfect and complete mean in this passage? They do not mean perfection in the way we view it today. They carry the idea of spiritual maturity. Carson states that, “Various circumstances are God’s way of allowing us to gain that which we are lacking. God adapts trials to our character to provide what we need! It is not always what we want or what we think we need.”[iii]
Words from an Endurance Runner
It was fascinating to speak with Brad Williams, an endurance runner. He has completed eleven marathons, including the Boston Marathon on two occasions. In each race, Brad was able to improve his finish time with a new personal record.
Brad spoke about the intensity that his body went through to be prepared for races. In the early days, his muscles would be very strained, his body exhausted and worn. He spoke of the “total misery” his body felt, but he kept moving toward his goal to initially qualify for Boston and then chase the elusive sub-three-hour finish time before moving on to competing in Ironman Triathlons.
As an endurance runner, Brad had to improve in both speed and endurance. It was a discipline, he said. He could not just skip training when he did not feel like working hard. He wanted to train right.
He mentioned the purpose for straining his body. Yes, he was motivated to finish his races well. He wanted to improve each time. It was imperative, though, that he do his best to get his body race ready. For him, keeping this in mind helped him continue to train, even when it was hard. The resulting muscle pain allowed his muscles to strengthen. Pushing hard brought soreness, but he knew that once the muscles repaired, they would be stronger.[iv]
A successful runner must put his body through much physical stress. In similar fashion, God knows what we need to help grow us spiritually. If we were never spiritually stretched from trials (from the loving hand of God), how would we really learn to trust God and increase in spiritual maturity? Our spiritual muscles would not grow. In fact, they would shrivel.
I wanted to include this excerpt from my book because I am appreciative of Dr. Kevin Carson and all that he taught me about the good purpose of trials. He “pounded” this concept into his students’ heads. His classes were life-changing for me.
If we lose sight that our life’s bumps serve a beneficial purpose in our spiritual lives, then our trials will shrink our muscles of faith.
There is purpose in our spiritual muscles being stretched. May we learn to endure and trust the process!
Let’s keep on keeping on!
Kevin Carson blogs at http://kevincarson.com/.
_____________________________________ 1. Kevin Carson, “Counseling James” (lecture, Baptist Bible Graduate School, Springfield, MO, June 5, 2006). 2. Carson, “Counseling James”. 3. Carson, “Counseling James”. 4. Brad Williams, interview by author, April 17, 2021.