Consider it all joy
My congregation has been studying the book of James for the past few weeks and given some recent circumstances in my life, his words took on greater meaning for me.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5)
I definitely liked James’ advice about asking G-d for wisdom and that had been my recent prayer: "May I have more please, Lord?"
But trials? Consider them joy? Was James nuts?
We might be tempted to think so but let’s consider this from a slightly different perspective: In 2006, Americans paid $17.6 billion dollars for something similar. People willingly parted with their hard-earned dollars (a lot of them!) for… physical fitness training. They paid to be tested and trained for greater physical strength and endurance. And they liked it!
Just as we go to the gym and get physical fitness training to increase our strength and endurance, G-d provides us with spiritual fitness training to increase our spiritual strength and endurance. Sometimes He has us "bench press" for patience. Other times He might have us doing "curls" for kindness or perhaps He wants us to "flex" our forbearance. When it comes to spiritual endurance, however, James tells us that the proper exercise is the testing of our faith.
James also ties our faith to wisdom declaring, "If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask of G-d" and Solomon says in Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
How little did I realize that along with an answer to my prayer for wisdom I would also be getting a large portion of the fear of the Lord and an extra helping of faith.
In December, my daughter, Alex, had surgery to correct a problem with her inner ear. While all surgery carries a certain level of risk, my wife's side of the family has a history of major problems with general anesthesia including cardiac arrest and death on the operating table. Thank G-d they have all been successfully revived and later recovered but I was more than a little worried with my little girl facing such risk.
In that situation I was forced to face a truth that most (especially men!) find highly uncomfortable: I could do absolutely nothing to help or protect my youngest child. Her life was entirely out of my hands.
For a guy like me who wants to help with everything and be "Mr. Fixit", this was a very frightening and humbling experience. It forced me out of my normal "I'll call upon G-d as backup if I can't handle the situation" mindset and into the reality of "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). My daughter’s life has always been in the Lord's hands, not mine, and this circumstance bluntly reminded me of that fact. If I can paraphrase Matthew 6:27: "Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his daughter's life?"
On the day of Alex's surgery, as the nurses wheeled her out of my sight into the operating room, G-d brought me to the point where I had to face the fact that He has the power of life and death and I did not. To stand face to face with that realization before the sovereign G-d of the universe is a humbling and fearful place to be. But the fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom.
As He brought me to that realization, G-d also placed some questions upon my heart: "Do you trust Me?" "Does your faith in Me extend to the life of your daughter?" "Does your love for Me go that far?"
"Yes, Lord. I trust You."
Through that circumstance, the Lord increased my faith and drew me closer to Him than I had been in a long time. I was joyful at the nearness of His presence and at the healing He performed in my daughter. She is doing well and continues her recovery after the surgery. Praise His Name!
As G-d served up that bit of faith and I found that it was good, I thought to myself "May I have more, please?"
I had forgotten that the testing of our faith builds endurance. Apparently, my endurance training wasn’t finished yet.
This week, my wife also had to have surgery and as I was brought back to that humbling place of fearful reverence before G-d, I felt the same questions upon my heart: "Do you trust Me?" "Does your faith in Me extend to the life of your precious bride?" "Does your love for me extend that far?"
"Yes, Lord. I trust You."
This time, however, I found it easier to trust Him. It was not quite as frightening because I knew G-d in a way that I hadn’t known Him before. As Solomon said, "the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
Like repeatedly running a mile builds our endurance physically, repeatedly having our faith in G-d tested and drawing near to Him builds our endurance spiritually. Maybe James was right and we should consider such testing pure joy.
Having tasted and seen that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8), I find myself (cautiously!) thinking again,
"May I have more, please?"