Do you remember the incessant media frenzy over the fairytale wedding of Prince Charles to the relatively unknown Diana Spencer? The event brought into sharp contrast the gulf between “commoners” and “royalty”. Constant pictures of everyday people clamoring for the slightest glimpse of royal pomp flash into my mind. It was a magnificent affair for the ages that kept populations from Britain, to Australia, to the U.S. entranced. It’s estimated that 750 million people tuned in to view the ceremony! That kind of riveted attention, the honor given to the couple, the amazement at the trappings, the appreciation of the imperial graces on display, all melded together into a sort of public joy. It’s the sort of joy James encourages when trials come into our lives. His language is truly remarkable. Listen to what he is communicating.
James is encouraging us to treat as the prince of graces, every trial of every kind that surrounds us. Usher in every trial as if it were a king, esteem its presence as you would a great royal (not a royal pain): whether it be from God (Luke 22:28, Acts 20:19, 1 Peter 1:6), from internal battle with sin (Luke 8:13, 1 Cor. 10:13, 1 Tim. 6:9, Luke 4:13), or from external pressure to sin or despair (1 Peter 4:12 Matt. 26:41). These variegated trials are to be cherished as means to holiness and grace. Conflict is a minister of grace. James is all-inclusive of the types of trials – the word “various” meaning many-colored, multi-striped, or dappled with different hues.
This is an incredible picture to describe what our attitude toward conflict should be! James is asking us to welcome trials/temptations as we would welcome a regal king or queen. Imagine the fuss and toil to prepare for such a visit! This idea of conflict as royalty comes from the word James uses. The word esteem (consider or count) is a word rooted in the idea of giving honor to imperial figures. James uses this word to describe the joy, anxious anticipation, delight, and diligence we should exercise when engaging with trials that enter into our lives. Not that we are signing gold leaf invitations for more of them – but that when they come we see them as gifts of God sent to perfect us. Even more powerful is the nuance Thayer’s Greek Lexicon adds to the use of the word. He says esteem “denotes a belief not resting on one’s inner feeling or sentiment, but on the due consideration of external grounds, the weighing and comparing of facts.” In other words when we consider the usefulness of conflict to create character it is not a subjective (touchy, feely) whim, it is a truth proposition based on the integrity of God. God says to “consider” conflict a joy! Weigh the evidence – God is working in your crucible of grace!
That’s driving in the rearview mirror to me. Joy is the last emotion I conjure up when facing trials. It’s a contentious correction of my normal response. I’m provoked by this approach and also humiliated that I so seldom get there. But it’s such a radical challenge that it summons me. I want an about-face in my attitude toward suffering. I want to bow to it in honor, expectation, and triumph. I want to be in the holy place of welcome for those friends who would make me more like Jesus. I want joy in the midst of trial so I want James to continue drawing me toward this extreme contradiction to my standard response.
Is God’s instruction a shock to you? Does it surprise you that the Lord directs us into an entirely supernatural attitude toward suffering? Does it irritate you that He does not allow us one moment to gripe about our circumstances or wallow in our “woe is me” self pity? Isn’t it a little perturbing that we can’t invite the attention of others to our trials for a little sympathy? Can’t we indulge ourselves in a rousing chorus of the old Hee Haw number, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me, Deep Dark Depression, Excessive Misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me!”
The short answer - No! Why? Because to do so denies the very reason God allows trials to come. These royal guests come with Gifts! They come bearing “an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones” like the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon. (1 Kings 10:10) God sees the gifts brought by His noble ambassadors as worth more treasure than all the empty dainties brought by our self-appointed kings and queens. The store of wealth they bring is of eternal value – unfading, stainless, lasting, fulfilling, and precious. Once their incomparable value captures us, penetrates us, we will find ourselves welcoming these imperial visitors in ways we never imagined. James is going to give us unrestricted access into the regal planning room to reveal to us just what God has in mind for us. He is the giver of “every good and perfect gift” – Want to see what He’s got working for you?