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I remember exactly where I was when the meaning of James 1:2-3 dawned on me. I wasn't at an all-night prayer meeting. I wasn't at the end of a 40-day fast. No, I was at a pizzeria in Kissimmee, Fla., in the summer of 1979, and I had just lost my temper.
I had been looking forward to enjoying a pizza from this particular place. But everything went wrong. First, the pizzas took 45 minutes to prepare. Then, as I carried them to my motel room through the pouring rain, they fell out of their wet paper bag into a puddle of water.
I had already told off the manager because I'd waited so long for the first set of pizzas. Now I was going to have to face him again to get new ones.
"How could all this happen?" I asked myself.
That's when James 1:2-3 came to me: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (NIV).
This verse had already been on my mind for weeks, since I was planning to preach on the book of James in the autumn. As I returned to the pizzeria, I said to myself, "Either James 1:2 is true or it isn't. And if I plan to preach on it shortly, I had better begin practicing what I preach!"
This trial of having everything go wrong with a long-awaited pizza, when people all over the world are starving, hurting, living in poverty or dying from disease, is almost too silly to mention. It was hardly the greatest trial a person could suffer.
But I have to tell you, this episode—this "trial"—was pivotal in my life. Minutes before I returned to the pizzeria to apologize with genuine meekness to the manager, I repented before God for my anger and behavior.
In that moment a new phrase was born to me: "dignifying the trial." I decided then and there to dignify that situation by accepting the entire matter as something that God sent. It was a divine setup.
I not only repented to the Lord, but I also thanked Him for the whole thing. I apologized to the manager and cheerfully waited for another pizza. (For some reason, he wouldn't let me pay.)
When I returned to my family at the motel, I was a different person.
A GOD-GIVEN PRIVILEGE
According to James 1:2, a trial is a God-given privilege that we are to "consider" pure joy. The Greek word is hegeomai, meaning "to value highly, to esteem." In other words, what would naturally make us feel the opposite—upset or sorry for ourselves—is to be valued as a wonderful opportunity.
How do we make that adjustment in our thinking? Only by sufficient motivation. We must be inspired or stimulated to look at trials in a positive manner.
Take Moses, for example. The Bible says he "regarded" disgrace for the sake of Christ to be of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, "because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Heb. 11:26).
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus Himself endured the cross because of "the joy that was set before him." He did not enjoy the taunts or relish the physical pain. But He considered the cross pure joy because pure joy was coming. And it came!
The message of James 1:2 is that trials are a good thing, if we have a positive attitude toward them when they come. James certainly doesn't say we will enjoy trials. Instead, we must endure them.
But we can regard the thought of them as pure joy because of what they can do for us.
Every trial has the potential to lead to great reward. James wants us to see that—by faith. He wants us to understand that trials are the gateway to God's anointing in our lives.
THE GATEWAY TO GOD'S ANOINTING
If it is anointing you want, then expect suffering. If it is a great anointing you want, anticipate great suffering at some stage.
When I say, "anointing," I am talking about the power of the Holy Spirit to make us do what we do with ease and without fatigue. The main reason for burnout and fatigue among Christians is almost certainly because we go beyond our anointing; we go outside it rather than functioning within it.
We can pray for greater anointing—for the ability to do what we previously could not do in our own strength. This is a legitimate desire; Paul told us to earnestly desire the greater gifts (see 1 Cor. 12:31). God will answer this request so long as it is in His will and sought with His glory in mind (see 1 John 5:14).
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