Let’s continue exploring faith in hard times when we are under pressure.
POINT #2 OUR PERSPECTIVE OF TRIALS DETERMINES HOW WE WILL FACE THEM
Faith is not just mentally consenting with something. Faith is personal, relational and, ultimately, transformational. When you really believe something, it changes you! Perspective is about how you see. God cares about how you see life. What is your perspective on your life? What do you expect from it? What do you expect from God and other people?
A right perspective fosters also right thoughts, which, consequently, produce the right desires and emotions. If I expect people to always do me right (= perspective), I may very well set myself up for failure. People won’t always do me right at all! If I allow people to determine how my day is going, then I will only do well, when they are treating me right. I make myself dependent on others. Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum. We all deal with people, relationships, families, spouses, children, etc. But the moment that your well-being depends on how others treat you, you make yourself much too vulnerable and susceptible to failure.
The good thing about a test is that you know where you are standing. It will teach you still where you and where you aren’t yet. God tests our faith because it’s purifying everything that isn’t pure and true. It shapes character! Yet, if our perspective towards trials is negative, it will treat life very differently.
- Instead of thriving life becomes surviving.
- Instead of overcoming life becomes going with the flow.
Shakespeare might have said it like this: “To see right or not…that is the question!”
So that begs the question…
How can you tell that you are seeing right, even when life is hard?
James gives us a good clue! “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials!” Joy is not a fake smile on your face and not feeling not so happy things by ignoring them. Joy goes beyond momentous feelings of ‘feel good’. Faith produces joy, because when faith is activated in your lives, God’s grace makes you what you could not become in our own strength.
What does that mean? When you continue seeing trials for what they really are, God’s grace comes in response to your faith and it produces joy, which is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit.
Another fruit that God’s grace produces through your faith is patience. How can you tell that someone really believes something? It produces steadfast patience. What is patience? In simple words, patience is prolonged faith or faith over a longer period. It’s what we might also call ‘standing in the faith’!
Let’s face the trials of life because they are inevitable anyway, but let’s face them with the mindset that will help us keep our expectations and focus on God who can help us overcome them. That brings me to my next point.
POINT #3 TRIALS KEEPS US IN NEED OF GOD
We all need God and we need Him a lot! But let’s be honest. What do we tend to do when life seems to be going well? We might not even say it that way, but it can easily creep in. Self-sufficiency and independence are two traits of a person who think that they can make it himself…until the storm comes. And the storm will always come. The storm is the reminder that we can’t make it on our own. We really need help! Trials help us to never forget that.
I don’t know about you, but when I go through hard times, eventually, maybe not at first, I will pray to God for help. My initial response when something difficult happens might be different, but eventually, I will need to come to terms with who I am and how much control I really have in this life. ZERO…
It has always been God’s desire for us to commune with Him. He wants to be close to us even when the storm hits. Keeping the communication lines open during the storm is so important. Prayer does that! God longs to hear our voices in prayer! He knows that when we see that, change will come because it shows that we can’t make it ourselves.
But it’s not just any kind of prayer. It’s the prayer of faith! What we pray, the words we speak directing at God will reveal what we believe. When we pray, God knows the weight of every word we say. Two aspects of prayer come to mind in the context of trials and hardships.
First, when you pray, it’s important to understand that God listens and wants to give or answer. That’s important! God is not arbitrarily looking down from Heaven who is good enough and who isn’t. He wants to give because that is in His nature. God is a Giver!
Second, there can be no duplicity or double-mindedness in our praying. He will know whether we were sincere in our prayers or not! There’s no point in faking that.
What is double-mindedness?
Let me just back up a bit before I answer that question. Trials and hard times in life will put us before a choice: Am I going to believe God in this situation or not? Am I going to trust Him or am I going to trust myself instead?
On top of that choice, there’s this tremendous battle that takes place 24/7 in your mind. It’s the war of all wars and it rages in your mind. Sometimes, during a big life storm, a million thoughts can cross your mind and if people could read those thoughts, you might feel very awkward about them. Not all thoughts that cross your mind are ‘your thoughts’ though. That might surprise you. I know it surprised me. I will come to that later…
Doubt is a big giant in many people’s lives. Doubt is the opposite of faith. If it takes faith to get us through the storm, for sure it will take doubt to keep us in that tempest much longer than that is really needed.
Now please note. I am not saying that we never have doubts or that a Christian can’t have honest doubt. After all, isn’t that what many people that don’t share our faith convictions say? You seem to be the owner of truth! I personally have had several doubts in life. Some of those doubts were intellectual doubts. Other doubts were simply questions about life for which I haven’t yet found an answer. Over time I have learned to live with that and that’s OK. I don’t need to have an answer to all my life’s questions. It doesn’t mean that God is threatened by my questions when I do ask them. Honest doubt keeps our feet on the ground, but that’s not the doubt I am talking about here though…
What James is saying about ‘doubt’ as the antidote to ‘faith’ has to do with something else. Sometimes doubts arise because there is an unhealthy pact or allegiance to the world still present that will continually draw people away from standing firm in the faith. That’s also what James calls being a ‘double-minded’ person.
It’s a person that wants God enough to not be punished with hell, but also a person that can’t really live for God because He’s too restrictive and severe.
It’s a person that wants to do the minimum required for the Christian journey without missing out on the pleasures of the world that seem much more appealing.
It’s this kind of double-mindedness that James rages against because it can’t produce the kind of faith that will stand the test. Double-minded people can’t live by faith, because they have a stronger allegiance to what they value, and that allegiance compromises their faith when the heat is on.
Trials have the capacity to strip that disruptive allegiance off the person, but it will not go without a fight. That leads me to another important point of a faith that works in trials
In my next blog I will continue exploring how faith that is under pressure needs to navigate through some common pitfalls.