“Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], 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.” James 1:2-4
Recently I was on the phone with a woman whom I deeply love and respect. It was her birthday, and while we were catching up, we were discussing how the Lord was at work in our lives. In the midst of conversation, she recounted how her life verse (the one mentioned above) had continued to move and impact her as she got older, and how the trials she had encountered had shaped her and her walk with Christ throughout the years. It was something that she could see particularly clearly on her birthday this year. As she recited the verse from memory, each part gripped me. I had been praying for weeks for the Lord to show me how in the midst of trial He could bring deep joy, an embrace of truly lacking nothing, despite some very obvious physical “lackings”. The effects of my past few years of chronic illness, and the awareness of what I have very visibly lost plagued me– energy, focus, memory, abilities, organ function, foods, endurance, maintenance of relationships… all to name a few. “What is steadfastness? What is endurance? What does it mean to be perfect & complete, lacking nothing?” all surfaced in my heart.
She recounted parts of her story, remembering the “trials of many kinds”– some that would be devastating and paralyzing for anyone to bear. As I heard her describe the patience, kindness, grace, and presence of God that came with those sufferings–the Lord spoke to me. The unseen collided with what was seen. Her godly endurance was not born overnight or manufactured by the flesh. Her steadfastness was something she couldn’t see being formed at the time- like a rock in a cliff being carved by the elements for years upon years.
If this verse hits you in the midst of a trial, you will experience a collision between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. The kingdom of man (or life in the flesh) proclaims that you don’t deserve trials, that God doesn’t care, or God isn’t there. In moments of weakness, you are tempted to doubt God’s love and His presence. The Kingdom of God (life in the Spirit) made manifest through Jesus Christ proves these things are simply not true.
In the Old Testament, the Temple represented the intersection of heaven and earth. Jesus is the manifestation of the reality to which the temple was pointing. As the Kingdom of God overlaps more and more with the kingdom of man, the characteristics of God’s kingdom citizens become evident. In the midst of seen trials, the testing of the unseen reality of faith produces steadfastness that can only come from the empowering of the Holy Spirit. As that steadfastness has its effect, you become a more perfect and complete citizen of the Kingdom of God even in the midst of the kingdom of man.
Countless times in my friendship with this woman, I remember her God-developed steadfastness was pronounced before me- visibly seen- as she served, spoke wisdom, and prayed for me. This was a product of becoming more like Jesus and living as a citizen of His Kingdom. It had been produced through years of trials, but consistently has been reflected to me as long as I have known her. My joy was increased as we reveled together in what God had done all these years. It gave me hope in my uncertainty. My wavering. My wanting.
Often I am reminded of a quote by JD Greear, “If dependence is the goal, then weakness is the advantage.” The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of man. In our pursuit of becoming more like Jesus, not even trials or tragedy can keep us from Him—they can make us more like Him. The world would say we are “losing” through our suffering, and it should be avoided at all costs, but the life of Jesus says quite the opposite. His sufferings produced the greatest victory of all time.
We have been given everything we need, with no lack. We are told we have received “every spiritual blessing through Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Lord, let the Kingdom of God manifest itself among us as we endure until the end. Let us set our eyes on what we cannot see, in pursuit of the steadfastness that can only come from the King. We can “count it all joy as we face trials of various kinds…” for we are told that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)