My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
You have to love the writing of James as it contains so many gems that could be taken at face value and make you feel a little despondent! There are so many encouraging words and phrases he trots out that make it seem simple to live a faithful and holy life. And yet it is so much harder to be a worthy human being than just reading an exhortation to a certain behaviour and being able to put it into action!
His motivational words, however, can speak into the darkness, pain, struggle and world of doubt in which we often find ourselves. Looking a little more deeply into the simple, easy answer style of his writing, what is he actually telling us here? His advice is be strong, be faithful, trust God, don’t blame God for the bad bits, step up and take responsibility for your own actions and seek to make wise choices and sound decisions, grounded in Christ.
I love the quote: ‘I cannot control how others treat me, but I can control how I react.’ And this ties in perfectly with the writing in the Epistle of James. He was writing to a persecuted people and was seeking to help them make good choices in the place they found themselves. And still today we have a choice whether to moan, criticise, gossip, condemn, argue back, hurt, or walk away and choose a different, peaceful, response to conflict and trials.
James is telling us it can be done and God is with us in it and we can choose a better, more fulfilling life- that has an impact on us and those around us. It won’t be easy and we won’t always get it right, but we are called to try.
Lord, lead me from temptation. Guide me in the time of testing. Be my rock in times of doubt. Strengthen me in times of fear. Love me when I am lost. Bring me hope when I feel despondent. Enable me to make sound choices. Inspire me to act to challenge injustices. Help me to be the change I want to see in the world around me. And let me live the love you have for me, each and every day. Amen
The Rev’d Jenny Mills is the minister of Newport Pagnell URC & West End United Church, Wolverton.