When we go through trials, the quality of our character is exposed. In James 1, the word for trial is the same as the word for temptation. There are (at least) two levels of our difficulties in this time: the physical, logistical and the spiritual/emotional. We are tempted to a lot of things: to give up; to doubt and be indecisive; to hold false pride; to feed anger and speak words of anger, judgment and hate; to not take action or responsibility. However, it could be a time to refine our character as we face these challenges.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
This is a time where our character comes into view - James uses the metaphor of looking into the mirror, and God points out the next way for us to grow.
In verse 5 it says that we can ask God for the things we lack. God is "generous without finding fault" - no condemnation here, just the strength, direction and transforming spirit to grow us.
Here are five areas of character that James chapter 1 lists as we look in the mirror:
God perseveres with us! God doesn't shift or change in the alliance with us and loving us. When we persevere, we don't do it alone.
It's tempting to blame God for our problems. God doesn't play games with us, or enjoy seeing us go through a hard time. Don't believe that God would be giving up on you or mucking around with you. Persevere with God.
Wisdom is described as knowing your mind. It is steady through difficulty - this is the kind of stuff that endures through any circumstance.
Not only can you trust that wisdom, people can trust you - knowing that what you say is going to be consistent, truthful, and reliable.
There's no point putting yourself down when you are feeling stupid - ask God instead.
This is a classic "great reversal" of the kingdom of God - the low are lifted up and the high are made low. These verses blast the myth of the "self-made" person, as wealth comes and goes without our control. The past two years have shown the extent to which economics can be turned upside down beyond our power. The warning: don’t be proud of something you can’t control.
James talks about the speed of emotions and responses. Be quick to listen, but note that anger and words go very fast. Self-control is learning to slow down our responses enough to choose them wisely. Verse 21 gives an alternative to filling up the space with our angry words, which is to let the space be filled with the words of God.
Integrity is about integrating the elements of our lives in a consistent way. Our words and actions need to match. This means a willingness to change when we have been given an indication that our words and actions do not match.
Integrity involves taking initiative (looking after those in need, even if there's no obvious personal obligation) and refraining from influences that will knock us off-track. This is a part of the "great reversal", those we consider unworthy are the ones we must spend more time with, those who are glamorous and celebrated may not be helpful for us in living good lives.
How has your character been tested recently?