James 1:2-3 gives a continuum that most Christians are familiar with. James tells his audience to count it all joy that they have trials, because the testing of our faith produces patience or steadfastness. Not automatically though. He writes that we are to “let steadfastness have its full effect” (ESV) or “let patience have its perfect work” (NKJV).
That saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” isn’t always true. If so, then we would all be mature and complete, lacking in nothing, to use James’ verbiage. Some people go through hard times and are bitter, self pitying and hard to be around. Others don’t even need hard times to act like that.
So when James says to let the trials produce their perfecting work, that word LET tells me that there is something I need to do to not grow bitter but to grow better through the hard knocks. As I was studying this, the strangest thing happened, no lie. I fell asleep on the couch and had this vivid dream. I was arguing with my boss at work, much to my demise. He told me it was time to quit. As I tried to speak, the words wouldn’t come out, it was like I was choking out my responses. I knew I was digging a hole with my every word, but was in too far to recover as I brought up things I held against him, since he was bringing up my disqualifying shortcomings.
I was relieved to wake up, but very shook. As I processed it, especially with James 1 still open on my lap, this is what I came up with. I had even written this line in my journal previous to falling asleep “Let God show up and tell you where you need fixed.” Well, He did.
One of the things that keeps trials from maturing us is bitterness. It’s easier for me to spot it in others than it is in myself. Bitterness is like this road block that makes us blame others, blame circumstances, and blame God directly or indirectly. It causes us to get stuck and stay there. Have you met people that told you about something like it happened yesterday, and then you find out it was in their childhood years ago?
A twin sibling of bitterness is resentment. That’s what struck me from my nightmare. I was bringing out stored up resentments and that’s what caused my smacky attitude that was going to get me fired if I hadn’t woken up. In Matthew 12:34-35 Jesus instructs, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings out what good treasure has been stored and the evil person out of his treasure brings forth evil.”
When I get wronged or somebody does something that I think offends me and I don’t use words to work it out and I harbor it, I am keeping those incidents in my resentment storehouse. Then they come out at bad times, like when I am in a bad mood, or off guard, or when I am under pressure. It’s what I have stored up. I have a good memory and I remember those things. Why don’t I store up all of the good things and they come tumbling out in an argument? The bad things stored up also come out as sarcasm or as passive aggressive acts. And we feel justified because of that thing that they did to us three years ago…
One of the ways to avoid storing up wrongs is to talk them out not just keep them inside. Short accounts, like not letting the sun go down on our anger and giving the devil a foothold as Ephesians 4:26 says. And being consciously forgiving.
Perhaps that’s how I let trials work their maturing effect on me. I’m not a victim that is entitled to lashing out or to being indulged. I am a player that needs to be transformed into Christlikeness, by the work of His Spirit in me, the chiseling work of trials and people who are sandpaper, and by the work of Scripture in my life.