James 1:1-8 – Trials of Life

man looking down with his head in his hands in despair

Read James 1:1-8

As I read from James, I can’t help but try to picture what it was like to be Jesus’ earthly brother. (This book is believed to be written by Jesus’ half-brother, not James the apostle.) What would the sibling rivalry have looked like? We don’t know much about Jesus as a child, teenager, or young man. As Jesus’ brother, James would have an interesting perspective to be sure. Yet curiously, James identifies himself in the opening as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James has taken his own place in helping others navigate their lives as followers of Christ.

In this letter from James, we’ll see how he tries to set things straight in terms of living a Christian life. It’s so much more than just saying you’re a Christian. The truths you’ll uncover could be summed up as a “how-to” for Christian living. Even though James wasn’t one of the chosen twelve, he was a leader in the early church having stayed in Jerusalem to begin his ministry there to Jewish Christians. His target audience for this letter are the persecuted Christians in hostile surroundings, much like we experience in our own trials of faith.

James would suggest trials lead to endurance and maturity. When we trust that good can come out of any such struggle, it helps us to endure. I’m not sure how joyful I feel in the midst of such testing, but that’s what James suggests. I do know that when I come to a situation with gratitude, it’s most difficult to stay overwhelmed. Our gratitude can overflow when we remember who stands beside us. We are never alone.

Can you think of a trial you’ve been through lately, or are going through right now? Did you feel joyful? James doesn’t mean for us to “pretend” to be happy. That isn’t helpful. If we can look at our hardships as learning experiences, knowing that God has not abandoned us during the process, our joy can start to break through the misery of our distress. “God never wastes a hurt” is a phrase I picked up long ago when David and I were leading a recovery ministry. That simple truth has helped me time and again to find joy in challenging circumstances.

James reminds us that when we are at our weakest, we need wisdom to see a way out. He suggests we “ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” When we’re stuck in the muck, it can be hard to ask for help, even from God. Especially from God. Don’t we tend to feel embarrassed or unworthy, blaming ourselves for our predicament? Get over it and turn to God! He is standing by ready to lift you out of your despair.

We are nothing without God. When we grasp that, it’s easier for us to come to God with confidence, knowing that he will answer us. James warns us not to doubt God’s strength and mercy. God is the only one we can count on. The world and all its enticements will only serve to disappoint.

Maybe you need to be asking God to help you with your unbelief? I think of the father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9 who said in verse 24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” In response, Jesus healed the man’s son. How can we have faith but still waver?

colorful animation of prayer hands and hearts and flowers

Let’s pray. Father, thank you for never leaving me to fend for myself. Forgive me for those times when I have overlooked your wisdom thinking I knew the best way. Help me with my unbelief when the enemy creeps into my head to confuse and distract me. I trust you with my life. Guide my steps. Thank you for each lesson I have learned from the trials of my life. They have strengthened me and brought me to this moment of trusting you more than ever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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