“Yes, but how?” It is a question I often write in the margin of books I’m reading because spiritual truth that remains cognitive, or that fails to come all the way home to personal application, is not God’s design. Rather than being hearers only, we want to be hearers and doers of the word! We want to affirm truth – yes, but how? How do we practice it, appropriate it, or live it practically?
James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
This is an unforgettable text on trials and suffering. James makes it clear that trials are beneficial. The testing of our faith produces both spiritual toughness and spiritual maturity. When I consider the resilience, stability, stamina, and health of these Spirit-wrought virtues my soul rises up with eagerness. I want to be spiritually resilient; I want to be spiritually mature; I want to have the attitude that embraces my trials for these greater goods. But how? How does God produce this maturity in our lives as we experience the pressures and trials of life?
Here are a few practical steps using Galatians 5 as a paradigm for mature Christlike character. James 1 speaks about the production of maturity and Galatians 5 gives a picture of maturity. Gal 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
James 1 teaches that trials produce spiritual toughness and maturity. It’s one thing to know that fact abstractly – but another to remember it personally when we are walking through tough times. This is important because we all easily forget. Reminders are even more important when the pressures and distresses of life feel more burdensome.
Combine James 1 and Galatians 5 by asking the question: “What aspect of mature character is shown to be lacking in me as I walk through and respond to my present trial?” This is a powerful way to turn our experience of adversity on its head. Don’t just consider your experience – consider how you are responding to your experience. The question above is key. None of us are fully sanctified. We’re all still in the growth process and must contemplate where God is highlighting our need for growth.
Instead of focusing on the details of your circumstance, focus on how the situation is exposing less than complete love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control in your life. We can focus our thinking. The meditation and reflection that might otherwise be grumbling about our circumstances ran instead be reflecting on our need for God’s transforming work. We can focus our praying. Instead of simply praying for God to remove the trial we can pray for endurance to endure cultivating greater patience or gentleness or whatever quality is deficient.
- Trust God’s work
The beauty and mystery of sanctification is that as we obediently submit to the Lord and desire his work in our life, we can confidently expect that he is working in and through us for his own good pleasure!
Trials make us more steadfast and mature but the process isn’t automatic! Perhaps trials have led you to impatient complaining, or unjoyful brooding. Perhaps the strain of trial has exposed a lack of love in your life. Perhaps we see fear and anxiety in the place of peace, self-promotion and protection in the place of love, entitlement in the place of patience, or harshness in the place of gentleness. Those are like helpful signposts pointing to what is lacking in our spiritual maturity (Ja 1:4). While these discoveries are often painful to acknowledge and accept in my own life, I rejoice because they are part of the growing pains in God’s school of character training. May he identify, expose, and transform areas of weakness into areas of Christian maturity in all our lives!