Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (verses 2-4)
I’ve always clung to this passage. I memorized it years ago, refreshing it many times, and now I recite it regularly in my morning devotions. It’s a wonderful passage.
But I’ve also been troubled by it. I understand what it’s saying, but I often find it difficult to enter into the emotion it recommends. Joy, pure joy. We used to sing a song based on these words. I was troubled by the song, too. It was so up-beat in tone, what some would call “happy-clappy,” that it felt somehow hollow and inauthentic.
Yet, I knew the passage contained insight I needed. It speaks of encountering “trials,” a word that refers to both troubles and temptations. The Lord knows I’ve been laid low by both. In all honesty, my natural reaction when I see one coming has often been to wince and duck for cover. Joy isn’t on my mind.
That’s why I need these verses. So I keep reciting them.
A few years ago I was reflecting on them again as I did some physio exercises for my knee. That’s when new insight came.
I had detached the quadriceps tendon in my left knee three months earlier, necessitating surgery. I’d been hobbling around since, my leg in a brace, immobilizing my knee so it could heal good and solid. Some therapies get you moving and bending the joint early on, but my surgeon prescribed complete Immobility for two months, then only slight movement of the knee during month three (just to remind it, he said, that it can actually bend). I’d been waiting, eagerly, for the moment when three months would be complete and the brace could come off and I’d start the hard, painful work of stretching out the tendon and getting my knee back to full health.
I had just started the process in earnest and I loved it! But, oh, did it hurt! A lot!
So, I was lying on my back on the floor that particular morning, doing my exercises. As instructed, I planted my left foot up the wall, then gradually dragged it downward, bringing my knee to almost 90 degrees flex, and then holding it there. It may not sound like much, but it was huge progress! And oh, how it hurt! But I loved it, because I knew the pain resulted from the tendon being stretched back into working order.
It was right then that I understood these verses afresh. As I held my knee flexed, experiencing the pain, enjoying the stretch, even looking forward to more, I realized I need to embrace trials in exactly the same way. I’m called to watch eagerly, encountering the trial (the relational trouble, or emotional turmoil, or seething temptation, or ministry crisis, or spiritual attack) and welcoming it joyfully, because it’s going to produce endurance. I’m called to press on through, not giving in, because it’s in the painful stretch of endurance, that endurance itself grows, leading to spiritual health and yielding fuller mobility in the Lord.
I could even sing the song with fresh vigour.
But then I needed to get back to the wall for more painful stretching. My knee was yearning for it. Couldn't wait.
Lord, thank you for your stretching work in the midst of trials. I’m eager. I want health. So I anticipate the trials, of various kinds, that growth may come. Indeed, your intent is to let endurance have its perfect result, yielding perfection and completion in your time. Amazing. Praise your name.
Reflect: Look back. What trial have you recently experienced that furthered the Lord’s perfecting work in you? Look ahead. What trial do you anticipate that will bring painful stretching? Commit it all into the Lord’s hands. He’s at work.