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, NIV)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4, The Message)

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.” (James 1:2-4, J.B. Phillips)

Tonight, we had a visual aid for the Bible study! Here’s Mark, eagerly opening up a big present to find the little presents inside:

And here’s Diane, delving deep into the box:

The presents weren’t, perhaps, what was expected, though:

Sometimes, we face trials we would rather not endure. Financial problems, redundancy, unemployment, loneliness, fear, mental health problems, illness, bereavement and persecution are all things we would prefer to avoid.

These are not the ‘gifts’ we want to receive. But James tells us that we can have joy even when facing these trials, not because we are masochists, but because we know God is working in all things for our good. He is developing our characters, strengthening us to persevere, endure and show steadfastness, no matter what the circumstances so that we may become mature and complete. Tasker says, “Without trials, faith can never result in the tested character which should be the hallmark of a Christian.”

This goes against all our instincts and natural thinking. The way of paradox always does! (see 1 Cor 1:25-31,Luke 9:24, Mark 8:34-37, John 12:24-25, Matthew 5:3-10) Nonetheless, James reminds us that a long-term perspective is vital if we are to cope with the pressures of such trials (see also Heb 12:1-3, 2 Cor 4:17-18, Rom 8:18,1 Peter 4:12-13). We have to resist the temptation to solve our problems our own way, to fall into despair, giving up or to seek to work things out with no reference to God. Instead, we have to fix our eyes on Jesus, understanding that God’s goal is for us to be ‘conformed to the likeness of His Son.’ (Rom 8:29). The glory that will be revealed in us far outweighs the temporary trials we are now undergoing.

There are many good gifts God gives us (and these were represented by chocolates and strawberries!), but we also need to learn to accept trials as tests which can help to form the character of Christ in us.