Every once in a while I get the privilege of preaching at my church. In a couple of weeks I’ll step into the pulpit. I have been preaching through a series on James, so on Tuesday I opened my Bible browser online to look at the next passage, and it was this:
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.
Tears welled up in my eyes. Just over a week ago I had noticed a putrid smell coming from my basement. My in-laws had just arrived for a visit, and after a few days of fun together the sewer backed up. Things got messy.
Then this week one of my daughters had asthma and congestion issues. Two nebulizer treatments later, and after several rounds of her throwing up, I found myself holding my little girl in the emergency room at 2 AM with my father-in-law seated next to me. When it rains, it pours (by the way, she is OK now).
So the tears in my eyes may have come out of sheer exhaustion, but they were genuine. It’s hard for modern American Christians to grasp the truth of this verse, that we are actually blessed when trials overtake us. The prosperity gospel tempts us to find our satisfaction in health and wealth, fame and fortune; but Christ offers something better.
Trials have a wonderful way of clarifying what is most important in life. When life is easy, we tend to get caught up in petty little issues that don’t really matter. We are tempted to indulge our selfishness and pride. So God humbles us and turns the focus back on him. That’s what this verse is about—learning to see and savor eternity with God. You could say it this way, “Blessed is the man (Christian) who remains steadfast under trial, for he (or she) has stood the test he (or she) will receive the crown, which is life.” The crown James talks about was most likely a laurel wreath that athletes in ancient times would receive as a reward for winning arduous physical competitions. James compares our eternal life with a reward we receive at the end of a race. You see, in the midst of trials eternity becomes so much sweeter. It is our reward.
And it’s a reward that would thrill any person who “loves God,” as the text says. If we love God, we will want to get as close to him as possible. You can’t get any closer than heaven. Though life may disappoint you, God can always satisfy you. He’s the constant while everything else in changing. Is that bitter lesson to learn? Yes. But it is a very, very good lesson to learn.
So if you are being sifted right now, take this to heart. You are blessed. Remain steadfast. Savor God right now, even when the truth is hard to swallow. And know there’s a reward for those who love God. There’s eternal life.