For many folks, the Christmas and New Year holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. For me, this season is also the most flavorful time of the year. This time of year I enjoy making cheese cakes, pancakes, and breakfast cakes, sticky buns, brioche loafs, and sourdough French toast. Yum!
As my hobby of baking has taught me, the finished treat is more than the sum of its parts. From my homemade sticky buns to a good vinaigrette dressing, ingredients that are plain, boring, sweet or bitter can blend together to make something delicious or disgusting (if you’re not careful).
2013 was, like 2014 will be, more than the sum of its parts. As you look back on it, you will form a certain taste in your mouth as you bite into the memories. I can remember two of the hardest years of my life, 2004 and 2010. In 2004, I transitioned from active duty military service into civilian life, a whole new world for me. In 2010, I lost my job while my wife was expecting our second child. Both years were filled with challenges, obstacles, and tempestuous times, and both are contrasted by the presence or absence of joy, wisdom, patience, prayer, and faith.
I am not sure what kind of year 2013 was for you, nor can I be certain what the future will hold for you, but I am certain that God has many divine appointments for us which are intended to spur, not stunt, our Christian endurance.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. – James 1:12
According to our verse, God’s blessings are due for those Christians who “endureth temptation.” Temptation is not necessarily the result of sin; it can be a test from the Lord designed to reveal our faith and increase our endurance (I Corinthians 10:13; Genesis 22:1ff). The temptation is like the hot water used to make tea. We often fool ourselves into thinking that the taste of our tea is created by the hot water, but the taste is only revealed by the hot water – the taste is created by the contents of the teabag. Likewise with the contents of our heart: each trial is designed to reveal the content of our heart. Does it contain the virtues of godliness?
When God tests you, He desires the see the production of two such virtues: Joy (James 1:2) and Wisdom (James 1:5).
Creating these virtues requires the right ingredients. If God is the owner of the bakery, then it is His right to set the menu. Nevertheless, He leaves the baking up to us. We must mix the right ingredients together in order to stick to God’s menu for our life:
Knowledge + Patience = Joy
Prayer + Faith = Wisdom
All these ingredients combine to equal the entrée of spiritual endurance:
Joy + Wisdom = Maturity evidenced by Spiritual Endurance (James 1:4, 12)
Let’s take the first “recipe” to make joy. Combining knowledge and patience are just the things we need.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” James 1:2-3
First of all, we must take knowledge that God is working in our life. This is one of the greatest joys of the Christian life! Repeatedly, God reveals that He works in the lives of Christians, and that we can be “confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Notice that it is a “good” work, intended for our good and God’s glory. The Lord Jesus Christ is working in you “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). In each temptation, He will formulate a desire within you through the indwelling Holy Spirit to commit to be joyful and to obtain wisdom. Frankly, I’d be afraid if God wasn’t working in my life. I always want to be in a position where I am in fellowship with God and able to discern His presence in each situation. As I read the Bible, I mark the characters who allowed great adversity to become a tool for their maturity, such as Joseph and David. I also note those characters that let their trials ruin their character rather than strengthen their faith, such as Saul and Naomi.
When you discover that God is trying to reveal your level of endurance, do you rest in the knowledge that God is working? If so, such knowledge will lead to patience, another ingredient necessary to produce joy. The concepts of patience and endurance are intriguing in the Greek language, which was originally used to write this biblical text. In verse 12, James uses the verb to encourage Christians to “endure.” This same Greek word is used as a noun in verse 3, yet there it is translated into the word “patience.” It’s like God is saying, “To be patient you must have patience.” Let’s be honest – that doesn’t sound very helpful. Jesus said the same thing, but worded it this way, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Simply, if you’re going to be a part of the vine, then you have to be a branch. If you’re going to have patience, such patience will be gained on the foundation of the knowledge that God is working in your life. Knowing that God is working helps us to know that God has our greatest good in mind for both our present testimony and our eternal reward. With that confidence fixing our mentality, patiently waiting on the Lord’s work to be complete can produce joy in any temptation.
The second “recipe” can be followed to mix prayer and faith together to obtain wisdom.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” James 1:5-6a
Our greatest daily need is wisdom. As Solomon stated in Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” In James 1:5, the word “if” is used yet assumes that the premise is true for the sake of argument, and the premise certainly is true. Consider that in the book of Proverbs alone there are 185 verses that directly mention wisdom or knowledge. Indeed, wisdom is the critical component that we must seek to add to our lives. We seek wisdom through prayer, which is the act of asking or begging for something from God.
Picture wisdom like this: If wisdom is the “house” in which we should live, then faith is its “doorway.” Without faith, prayer is ineffective. It is by faith that we have “access…into this grace wherein we stand” (Romans 5:2). Why should we seek God’s wisdom? The mind of God is an infinite archive of the history of the world, the endless library of events yet contrived, and the boundless repository of inscrutable personal and practical details of life. He knows the number of hairs on our heads, the precise measurement of our stature, and the thoughts and intents of our hearts. We must believe that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him and then seek Him with our whole heart. Prayer in faith will result in the receipt of wisdom, the knowledge of what is right coupled with judgment of how to act upon it. Isn’t that exactly what we need for any event in any day of our lives?
Let’s get practical. In the past year alone I’ve seen folks in the hospital and folks recover from illness; taxes go up and support go down; relationships ruined and relationships repaired; kids leave their home and kids make a new home; folks struggle silently and folks struggle not-so-silently; parents become powerless to help their grown children and parents who miss opportunities to help their growing children. I’ve seen answered prayers and the absence of prayer. Every year there is no lack of God’s work in our lives, though there is frequently a lack of willingness on our part to endure that which has been designed for us. There’s no lack of Christians experiencing trials, though there is often a lack of Christians experiencing joy and wisdom.
Joy and wisdom are possible no matter what we are dealing with as long as we recognize and know that God is working, maintain patience in God’s work, and pray in faith to receive God’s wisdom. This is the mature faith of James 1:4 where the Christian is “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Jesus demonstrated these same characteristics as He hung on the cross for our sins. Though he despised the shame of sin placed upon Him, Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” [emphasis mine]. What factors are influencing your decision to mix or not to mix these vital ingredients into your life? Absent these ingredients, the end product simply will not taste good. We can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) even when the world is bitter. As we mix these ingredients into our life’s events, we can bake a life that is tasteful to us and pleasing to the Lord.