My wife, Brandy, works in the recycling industry. Her job is to buy scrap alloys from manufacturers that have leftovers from the products they make. For example, aluminum is often mere shavings, small scrap pieces, or larger bent and mangled pieces. For the manufacturers, the aluminum is good for nothing but scrap. It will be thrown out in a roll-off scrap container. Brandy and her company, however, see the value in these old scrap pieces. They purchase the discarded aluminum, recycle it, and sell it to companies like Novelis. Novelis then uses this recycled aluminum to make products that are sold to car manufacturers like Ford and Range Rover. When you see a Range Rover, you are looking at a $100k vehicle that is made of aluminum that likely started from old discarded pieces of scrap that the average person saw little value in.
Our faith in Christ is like that. Often our lives are mangled and destroyed by our own choices influenced by sin and the circumstances of life in a fallen sinful world. Many times, the people around us see us as good for nothing, while begin to believe the same about ourselves. Regardless of how we are viewed by the people around us (or ourselves), God saw us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). God saw our potential in Christ and knew, through the Cross of Christ and His redeeming love, He could take our lives and make them something beautiful. That is to say, His plan of saving grace was to transform our mangled shredded lives to be conformed to the image of his glorious Son (1 Cor. 5:17-21).
How does he do this? James tells us that one of God’s processes for us to be transformed and matured is to put us through trials. That’s a hard pill to swallow! It’s like knowing that you have to get an inoculation. We know it will hurt, but at the same time, it heals us and prevents future sicknesses. Trials are not easy for even the most mature Christians. We have to keep in mind that God never promised us exemption from trials, but He did promise to use them for a great purpose (Rom. 8:28). Jesus preemptively warned us, “in this world, you will have trails, but take heart, I have overcome the world!” (see John 15:19; 16:33; 17:14) Moreover, the Scriptures are replete with this truth (see Job; Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Pt. 2:19; 4:16; 5:9)
James says that trials are used to “test our faith.” The Greek word here for testing is dokimazo. It is only found here in the New Testament and typically was used in describing the act of refining metal. It is very much like the recycling process that I described above. Precious metals are not so precious when they are first mined. They must go through the fire several times to remove all impurities. Then after much testing, the result is refined, precious metal! Our faith is the same. God see’s our potential and He uses the trials of life to mature us in the image of His son.
Like I said, Christians are not promised exemption from trials. There are a few primary reasons why. First, even after we are spiritually renewed in Christ through faith and repentance, we still wrestle with a fallen sinful nature. We are still susceptible to bad choices, which unfortunately bring trials. Second, we have other people all around us that wrestle with the same fallen nature and they make choices that bring trials our way. Third, we must always realize the forces at work in the spiritual realm. Satan and his demons work to bring about destruction in our lives. He was there in the beginning (see Gen. 3) and he is here now. His sole purpose is to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). The only exemption we can hope for is after we have endured the final trial of death, at which time we will have passed from this fallen world into the presence of God where there is no more sin and suffering.
Since we cannot extricate ourselves from trials—I’ve tried, it doesn’t work– what should we do? James’ answer is to “count it all joy!” I’m just going to be very honest here. That is a tough one to wrap my mind around. Here’s the conclusion I have come to over the years: James is encouraging us to develop a Christian perspective when it comes to trials. Do trials hurt? Yes! Are trials painful? Yes! But for the Christian who is submitted to God’s will, and seeking to grow in Christ’s likeness, trials can be a catalyst for transformation into Christ-likeness. When our perspective on trials changes from one of pessimism, self-pity, defeat, dejection, discouragement, apprehensiveness, anxiety and worry to one of “knowing that the testing of our faith produces perseverance” and perseverance produces maturity in Christ, we can have a spiritual, Christ-centered positive out look on trials because we know that the sovereign, all powerful, creator of the world has our backs! He promises to not only be with us, but to use our trials for the glorious purpose of making us more like Christ. For that reason, I can count it all joy!
Once we develop the proper outlook on trials, it is important that we start asking the right questions. What is God saying to me in this trial? What lessons can I learn? Is there an aspect of my character that God is working to change? How can I use what God has shown me through my trial to help others? Our questions do not always get answered immediately, but if we are genuine and open to what God is doing, he will show us how He is using the difficult circumstances of life to grow and mature us.
It has been well said that we are typically in a trial, leaving a trial, or about to encounter a trial. Trials come in all shapes and sizes and are a part of life. Next time you find yourself in the midst of any size trial, try keeping a Christ-centered perspective, know that God is with you, and know that God is going to use it for a greater purpose. If you cannot see exactly how God is working in your life specifically at that moment, try meditating on Joseph in the Old Testament who suffered so much but could say to his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God meant for the good!” Remember Job and Paul. And ultimately, remember Jesus. He is the greatest example of how God uses suffering for a greater good. Jesus suffered more that any human to ever live being tortured and ultimately going to the cross to bear the sins of the world! Yet the outcome was a salvation offered to all and resurrection to be seated at the right hand of God!
Jason Pierce is a manager for Nickell Rental in Hiram. He has been involved in ministry for the last 15 years. He enjoys spending time with his family and bass fishing.