I recently took some old, gold jewelry that I no longer wear, to an appraiser. Thinking the pieces were gold-filled, I expected their value to be fairly high. To my surprise, they turned out to be gold-plated, with little value. When they are new, the difference in appearance between a gold-plated ring and a gold-filled ring is undetectable to the untrained eye. The difference in value is astonishing.
In time, a gold-plated ring begins to chip and tarnish under the everyday pressures it experiences. In contrast, gold-filled rings can be handed down from generation to generation because of their enduring quality. I recalled the sheepish way I felt in the jewelry store that day while I studied the book of James this morning. Much of the book lays out the differences between sincere religion and false religion, or as I call it, the difference between true believers and posers.
So many ideas that Jesus’ brother shares are high value for anyone in ministry so this is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll share the concepts which leaped out at me. The first chapter launches with an exhortation that follows well on my recent posts about Nehemiah; it’s the idea of tenacity amidst troubles.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:2 NKJV
I used to be such a whiney biscuit, so quick to give up on joy, when trouble ruffled my petticoats. God has grown me up a bit but sometimes, under pressure, I still find myself speaking sentences using the word “I” too many times. I’m annoyed that I have to deal with “this” again, whatever that might be. On occasion I still feel fingers of fear starting to clamp down on my gut. Other times frustration makes me blather on to my poor husband, or father, or daughter about something that’s got my cookies frosted.
In the past, those things used to be the start of a downward spiral that took a crazy amount of energy to pull out of. I’m a skosh wiser now so I usually catch myself and start speaking truth to my soul. I say things like, “Come on, this is only a test, and it’s ALL a test. God is using this to shape off sharp edges. I’ve got the full power of the Trinity working on my behalf. This has all passed through God’s hands and He’s giving me everything I need to navigate this gracefully.” Some days, me myself and I carry on long conversations until my joy is restored and the gospel of peace is firmly lashed back onto my feet.
The NIV translates the word “patience”, from the King James version of James 1:2 as perseverance and the NLT calls it endurance. The Greek word for patience, perseverance, endurance is “hupomeno.” It’s a military term which means to hold a position or maintain a territory. It makes me think of all the movie scenes of battles where officers shout to their troops while opposing armies advance, “Hold the line, hold the line!”
Just like gold-plated jewelry can’t withstand the pressures of everyday life, neither can Christian posers withstand a trial. They whine, complain, run away, try to fix things on their own, try to get others to fix things and avoid confrontation. They are spiritual deserters. As a former deserter, can I just tell you that it takes just as much energy to run from a battle as it does to fight it. Worse yet, our Father loves us too much to let us get away with that behavior.
We may be able to duck out of a particular skirmish, but God has a way of plunking us into a different battle that will develop the qualities we didn’t develop when we ran away from the first battle field. In our family, we call that “goin’ around the same mountain again,” referring back to the Israelites turning an eleven-day trip into a 40-year odyssey, because of their disobedience.
So, the question is, how many times do you want to go around the same mountain in a wilderness? True believers recognize trials as opportunities. They put their heads down and keep on movin,’ armed and dangerous with the Truth. The funny thing is, now that I’ve learned to run to the battle instead of whining about it, it seems like God delivers me through trials in much better shape than when I went into them. Sure, I falter and stumble at times. I’m not a top- tier gladiator just yet but I’m definitely in the ring.
Next post I’d like to look at the double-minded person James speaks of in Chapter one. This kind of mind is epidemic in our culture and unfortunately turns up in the church too. Join me in a few days to pick up some tips on how to be a “Steady Eddie.”