James chapter 1
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Conventional Christian teaching tells us that we go through seasons of trials and difficulty for any number of reasons. First, we’re told that times of hardship are times of testing. That’s what God’s word tells us in that passage from the book of James. We’re told to be joyful when God tests us and that is not an easy thing to do. Being joyful is the furthest thing from my mind when times get tough. Hard times do test our faith. We have to keep mind that this is why God allows testing in the first place. Testing produces steadfastness, or in other words, it teaches us patient endurance. This is echoed in Romans chapter five where Paul wrote that “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope”. And Paul was speaking of the divine hope that we have in God because of the love He has poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Tough times also teach us to lean on God and to trust in Him and only Him. – Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. Psalm 33 – Unfortunately, we often turn to God only after all else has failed. Or we don’t lean on God quite as much when everything is going great – as we do when the bottom falls out. The life of Job teaches us that we may enjoy blessings one moment, and then have to endure suffering and loss the next. We all know the story. God permitted Satan to take all that Job had; his children, his possessions, everything. After all was gone, Job simply said, “The Lord gave, and Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job’s story is a riches to rags story. And in the end it was riches to rags and back to riches again. And there’s a lesson there for us. Job was blessed by God most of his life before he suffered the loss of his children and all his possessions. So Job’s story was not the story of man who lost it all and ultimately turned to God because he was already a faithful man of God. It was actually the time of blessing that prepared him for the difficulties that fell on him. The times of abundance prepared Job for his times of famine.
We’re good at blessing the name of God when he gives, but not so much when He takes away. The time of blessing prepared Job for the time of loss. And after he lost everything, Job’s life got even worse because God then permitted Satan to destroy Job’s health. It seemed that even his own wife turned against him when she to Job, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” But he was unshaken. He simply replied, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”
Job’s faith was not built on the foundation of worldly wealth. As Satan learned, Job was not a man of God because God had blessed him with prosperity. Job was a man of God because he understood where his prosperity came from and most importantly, he understood that God owns it all. It was God’s to give and God’s to take and Job knew that and accepted it.
Nearly all of us have, or will enjoy times of abundance followed by times of famine at some point. That is to say, there will be times of blessing, and times of testing. Job understood this though he was never told exactly why God allowed Satan to do what he did. But Job knew that we praise God in good times and bad and in fact, the Bible tells us to use those times of abundance to prepare for times of famine. This is illustrated in the book of Genesis through the life of Joseph.
After his trials and after he had risen to become second in command in the land of Egypt, Joseph was told by God that the land would enjoy seven years of fruitful harvests followed by seven years of famine. Joseph did not curse God for bringing the famine. He did not ask “Why would a loving God allow such a severe famine to happen?” He did none of that. He simply obeyed God and used the time of abundance to prepare for the time of famine. God gives and God takes away, and there is no guarantee that God will ever give it back. Job didn’t know God would eventually restore his fortunes. And we’re never given such a guarantee in spite of what the prosperity gospel preachers have to say. In fact, the health and wealth preachers have it backwards. They claim that the famines prepare us for abundance. But as we see in the lives of Job and Joseph, quite the opposite is true. We must use the times of abundance to prepare for the inevitable famines.
I mentioned that there is no guarantee that God will ever restore us as He did Job. In this world, and in this life, I believe that to be a true statement. We may very well be left to experience times of famine for the rest of our lives. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we have hope beyond this world and beyond this life. Jesus told the story of a rich man whose name we’re never told and a beggar named Lazarus. We’re all familiar with that account in the gospel of Luke. Lazarus suffered a lifetime of misery but we can conclude that at some point in his life, he had placed his trust and hope in God. After a lifetime of famine, he received his “abundance” by way of eternal life in the presence of the Lord. I can’t promise many things but I can promise this: Eternity in the presence of our Lord will be far greater than all the riches and wealth and abundance this world has to offer. When we’re with Jesus Christ for all eternity, we’ll have all we’ll ever need.