Trials and testings are an inevitable part of our earthly lives. We do not know when we will be called to face unexpected hardships like a serious illness, bereavement, disappointments, losses or difficult relationships. Our normal reaction is to sink in despondency and falter in our faith. But as Christians, we ought not to faint or be discouraged. God’s Word shows us how to respond rightly to adversities and guides us to triumph over them. One such exhortation is found in the epistle of James.
In our article last week, we learnt about:
1. Our attitude to trials
We ought to rejoice when facing trials – because of the sweet graces that accompany a patient spirit: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1: 2-3).
2. The purpose of trials
God’s purpose in our afflictions is to teach us patience and to perfect our faith. When we understand God’s providential hand in our suffering and joyfully submit to His will, we will be “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (v 4). Steadfastness in our afflictions produces patience and matures our Christian character.
In his epistle, James also exhorted the suffering Jewish believers to turn to God for help:
3. Divine help in trials (vv 5-8)
o Ask God for wisdom
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (v 5)
One may ask: “Why pray for wisdom when we are going through a hard time? Should we not pray instead for deliverance from the present trial?” Why do we need wisdom to cope with our afflictions?
As depraved sinners, we tend to rely on our flesh and to resolve problems according to our own understanding (Prov. 3: 5-6). In our pride, we may deal foolishly and mar our testimony. We therefore need God’s wisdom to cope with our trials and to profit from them.
James encouraged those who lacked wisdom to “ask of God” because of His liberality in giving – He “giveth to all men liberally” (v 5). He also assured them that they could come freely before God as He would not chide them – He “upbraideth not”. The word, “upbraideth” – which means “rail at, revile or chide” in the original Greek – highlights the contrast between the gracious way God receives our requests as opposed to the negative response of men. God will never turn away the sincere seeker. So if we do not know what to do, we should not be afraid to ask God for wisdom. He knows our frailties and is ever ready to guide us – “and it shall be given him”.
God “does not reproach or chide us for our past conduct; for our foolishness; for our importunity in asking. He permits us to come in the most free manner, and meets us with a spirit of entire kindness, and with promptness in granting our requests. We are not always sure, when we ask a favour of a man, that we shall not encounter something that will be repulsive, or that will mortify us; we are certain, however, when we ask a favour of God, that we shall never be reproached in an unfeeling manner, or meet with a harsh response” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
o Ask in faith
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (vv 6-8)
As our Heavenly Father, God will not withhold anything good from us. However, we must ask with a believing heart. James exhorts us to pray in faith – with confidence in God’s faithfulness and love (v 6a). One whose faith wavers under trials “is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (v 6b). Seawaves are driven and tossed at the mercy of the wind. So he whose mind is full of doubts is as unsettled and restless as the waves of a turbulent sea.
God will not hear the prayers offered by a dubious mind and a faithless heart: “For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (v 7). James aptly calls him “a double minded man” – one who is divided in his thoughts and convictions. A fickle man who “is unstable in all his ways” (v 8) cannot expect to receive any favour from the Lord.
Brethren, we do not know what trials and testings this new year will bring. But we do know that God has a purpose for our suffering – to teach us patience and to mould our Christian character. With this understanding of God’s providence, let us “count it all joy” when we are tested and tried (v 2). Let us seek God’s wisdom to help us respond appropriately to our afflictions. Our gracious God will never chide us when we turn to Him in our time of need. He will hear our prayers and attend to us. However, we must “ask in faith” – trusting in His mercy and faithfulness – and not vacillate between faith and doubt (v 6). One whose faith wavers will not be heard by God.
Let us take heed to these precious lessons of faith and apply them in the face of adversities. May the Lord grant us grace and wisdom to triumph over the trials of life.