Leaning on His Word
What does every believer need but doesn’t want, has but doesn’t know what to do with? The answer is trials. We don’t want them, but we have them. When we have them, we don’t know what to do with them. And though they’re always individualized, they all involve the same underlying issue: trusting God’s Word and living by it.
The book of James has much to say about going through trials and leaning on the Word. It was written by Jesus’ half-brother who was the spiritual leader of the church at Jerusalem. He was writing to the thousands of Jewish believers forced to flee Jerusalem due to intense persecution. These people had lost their jobs, homes, and possessions. In some cases, they even lost family and friends. Life for them was extremely difficult, and James wrote to encourage and comfort them and help direct their paths.
Wisdom Is Key
First, he reminded them that trials produce maturity, so we should accept them joyfully: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Jas. 1:2). Trials should make us anticipate what God will accomplish. We are to accept them with joy, not for the sake of the trial, but for the sake of the outcome.
To do so, we need God’s wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Some of us today are dealing with unemployment, family troubles, health issues, or struggles concerning God’s future for us. In all of these cases, we need God’s wisdom. We must ask, “How do I respond to this situation? What is God’s way? What is God’s plan for me in the circumstances I’m facing?”
Scripture says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (v. 17). James was referring to the trials. God has given them to you with love. The phrase every perfect gift describes the gift itself and the fact that it is perfectly designed for your situation.
God superintends over everything He gives you. He knows how much you can handle and what you need in order to mature. God sees your potential. He is like a master teacher and perfect parent rolled into one, and He wants the very best for you. He uses trials to help you grow, so you can maximize your service in His Kingdom.
The key to enduring trials is God’s wisdom, which comes only from His Word. Consequently, we must apply Scripture diligently, being “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (v. 22). God’s wisdom always works. It is perfect. When we obey the Word, we overcome sin and prevent the trial (which is neutral) from turning into a temptation (which is negative).
Second, James reminded these suffering believers that if you have faith without works, you really don’t have faith: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). This section is not about being born again or saved from sin. It is about being delivered from trials. When James asked, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (v. 14), the answer is no. Faith without works will not see you through your struggles. Your faith must be active.
For example, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (v. 21). The word justified here does not mean “born again.” In verse 23 James cited the fact that Abraham was granted spiritual life in Genesis 15 when he believed God’s promise to give him a son. Here James explained that Abraham was shown to be righteous when he prepared to sacrifice that son approximately 40 years later. Abraham was 75 when he was granted spiritual life and 115 when he placed Isaac on the altar. Abraham was willing to trust God’s instruction and to respond based on God’s Word, despite the fact that he didn’t understand how everything would transpire.
Romans 4:19 says, “not being weak in faith,” Abraham trusted God. That is what God wants us to do as well. He’s telling us, “When you go through a tough time, trust Me. Live by My Word. Let Me make you a person of faith whom I can use in marvelous ways in My Kingdom.”
Advice Is Cheap
When seeking God’s wisdom, avoid cheap advice. James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers.” This verse does not refer to the formal role of a teacher. The context involves trials. When we see someone going through trials, we often love to give advice. I love to give my opinion. If you want to know what type of car to drive, what type of cereal to buy, what type of shaving cream works best, just ask me. I’ll tell you!
However, Scripture warns us to be careful so that we don’t give the wrong advice. Most people respond to things emotionally. Peter responded emotionally to Jesus after Jesus “began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Mt. 16:21).
“Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” declared Peter (v. 22). Jesus then rebuked Peter and said his response was “not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23).
Christians can give ungodly advice. Sometimes it is emotionally oriented, sometimes practically oriented. Either way, it is not from God. For God’s advice we must consult His Word.
Perhaps if we had been with Jesus when Satan tempted Him to “command that these stones become bread” (4:3), we might have said, “I don’t think God will be upset if You turn one little stone into a Big Mac. After all, You’ve been out here for 40 days with nothing to eat. Surely God doesn’t expect more from You than that.”
How often have you tried to comfort a hurting friend by saying, “You have suffered for so long. Don’t you think it’s time to cut your losses? You have stuck it out long enough. Surely God doesn’t expect more from you than that.” Perhaps, like Peter’s, your advice was not from God.
There are two sources of wisdom in this world, God’s and the Devil’s; and they lead us down two different paths:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (Jas. 3:13–17).
King Solomon put it this way: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). The majority opinion is usually of the world. God tells us, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8–9).
God functions on an entirely different plane from human beings. He has a different set of values and different ways to respond and act. He wants us to lock onto His truth, walk with Him, and understand where He is going.
We need God’s wisdom to endure trials. We also need faith. We must be willing to trust God by humbling ourselves under His hand in order that He might lift us up and bring us to maturity.
Do you have financial troubles, medical problems, difficulties at home? Then get down on your knees and beseech Him to provide for you. Take the steps indicated in His Word, and wait on Him (Jas. 5:7). Navigating trials requires patient endurance. It requires trusting God day by day and waiting on Him to make things come around.
In the end, Jesus promises a crown of life to those who love Him despite their trials and who endure by leaning on His Word (1:12).
I don’t know about you, but I want to be grown up. I’m still working toward that day. I want to stand before Jesus and have Him say, “You grew up pretty well. It took a long time, but you grew up. Well done, good and faithful servant.” When this life is over, our struggles will have been worth it all.