This week, we began studying the book of James together at First Church. The letter does not waste any time jumping into one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith. In James 1:2, the author states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trails of many kinds.” Our natural reaction to trials and adversity is not typically joy. A person usually reacts with anger, confusion, grief, or anything but joy. And yet, James tells Christ followers that we should be joyful in the midst of adversity. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 as well. “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice!”
The reason we can rejoice is because God can use our adversity to strengthen our faith and mature us. Adversity produces perseverance, and perseverance leads to maturity (James 1:3-4). God’s plan does not involve adversity, but his plan is to use our adversity to make us more like his son Jesus Christ.
When we face adversity, we must remember where our identity lies. We find meaning and purpose in life in our relationship with Christ, not in any circumstance or situation in which we may find ourselves. This is true whether you are facing unimaginable challenges, or you think things couldn’t be going better. The circumstances we face in this life are only temporary. They can be here today and gone tomorrow. But our relationship with the Lord, our status as his children, can never be taken away from us. This is why James writes the following words in James 1:9-11:
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Anything can be taken from us without a moment’s notice. I am a husband, father, and pastor. It is easy to find my identity in any and all of those roles. Yet each of them can be stripped from my life without warning. What we ought to take pride in, where we should find our ultimate meaning and purpose, is in our relationship with the Lord. That way, whether we face adversity or prosperity, no matter what changes take place, we will have a firm foundation on which to stand.
Many people do not come to that realization until they go through adversity. They are confronted with the reality of loss, betrayal, or hardship, and God uses that opportunity to draw them to himself. I hope and pray that you put your trust in him, and look to the Lord for your true identity. As it says in Romans 8, there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from his love. As you do, you will experience the benefit of adversity: strengthening and maturing your faith.