Some years ago there was a jogathon at Cal State Northridge, and somebody asked me, “Are you going to run?” I hadn’t been jogging in a long time because I had bad knees from old football injuries. But people kept encouraging me to jog, so I did. I think I jogged 26 laps in an hour. And let me tell you — I could not walk for a whole week afterward, because my knees were so swollen. And of course, I got a lecture from my wife about overdoing things.
That moment was a good reminder that anybody who wants to run long-distance has to start small. We can’t start big all at once; we slowly work our way up to maximum capacity.
The same is true of trials in the Christian life. Look once more at James’s opening verses:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3)
Last time we looked at the first part of this statement and discussed how a joyful attitude is our first tool for enduring trials. But now let’s look at verse 3 and its keyword, “knowing.” Just as joy defends us in trials, so does knowledge.
The Greek word here for “knowing” is ginsk, which refers to knowledge that comes from personal experience. James can be paraphrased as saying, “Look — if you’re going to persevere through trials, there is something you’ve got to understand.”
What you need to know is this: Your suffering is teaching you endurance.
Trials aren’t pointless; they are designed to work something. And James says that this something is dokimion, which can be translated as “staying power” or “perseverance.” Trials produce a tenacity of spirit that holds on under pressure while waiting on God’s timing to remove suffering and reward obedience. Every hardship makes your sense of perseverance a little stronger.
David draws this connection between suffering and endurance at the beginning of Psalm 40:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Every time you come out of a trial, isn’t that the way you feel? “I cried unto the Lord, He picked me up, set me on a rock, put a song in my heart, and off I went, stronger than ever because I endured that trial.”
This is true of every trial, no matter how insurmountable it seems. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Stop and think about this statement for a moment. Does everyone have the very same ability to endure trials? Of course not — a brand new Christian with limited knowledge and limited experience is not going to have the same capacity for endurance as a more mature believer.
So what I believe Paul is promising here is this: God will never put you through a severe trial without first strengthening you appropriately with preliminary ones. God will never completely overwhelm you with something you haven’t been prepared for. Every trial He sends is designed to produce more and more endurance, equipping us for greater ministry, greater service, greater trials, and ultimately for greater joy.
I have learned in my life that no matter how dire a trial is, there is always, always light at the end of the tunnel. And when you finally come out the other side, you rejoice at the endurance that the trial produced. This endurance then, in turn, brings greater faith, abounding love, and a tremendous testimony to the watching world.
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