Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
James 1: 2-4 The Message
Most people do not consider tests and challenges to be gifts. They are viewed as something to get through, like an athlete might consider a hurdle to clear, or a student would view a mandatory class, or an adventurer might see a river to ford.
Yet here in the opening verses of his letter, James encourages us to see tests and challenges in the most positive light of all: as gifts, opportunities to strengthen our daily living, and as blessings which we ought to seek out!
We might be tempted to dismiss James as crazy, or misguided. Yet there is a part of us which knows that tests and challenges are necessary for optimal growth, and health. As a musician, I knew that if I never played in recitals, I might not get over the nervousness to discover the joy of sharing my talent. Successfully conquering challenges is a necessary and helpful part of life.
While in Houston for a conference a few years back, I had a chance to visit NASA. I learned about the extraordinary forces at work on the human body when astronauts are weightless, in zero gravity, for days and weeks. How does the human body fair when it does not have gravity testing it every day? Not very well, according to the experts. The lack of gravity affects human eyesight, so the astronauts cannot see as well as they can upon the earth. For some reason, it also affects men, more than women. Yet the worst effect is upon the muscles, and bones, which both become weaker. While astronauts can do some exercises to control these negative side effects of zero G, there is just no way to eliminate them entirely.
To put it another way, everyday gravity actually helps the human body. Whether we like it or not, the daily challenge of fighting against the earth’s gravitational pull helps us to become stronger.
When we are feeling pulled and challenged, we need to remember that these are tests of our spirits. Are we going to walk with the Lord during challenging times, or are we going to try and pull away, and attempt to avoid God’s grounding love? Challenges can be painful, but they are also God’s way of helping to make us stronger for the next stress or challenge which will come our way. Without tests and challenges, we would never become the mature, well-developed believers our Lord intends for us to be.
When we face challenges in our lives, remind us that all things, even difficult things, work together for good. Forgive us when we seek to blame others for the situation we are in. Help us to push through the challenges, realizing that successfully meeting challenges makes us stronger. Help us as individuals, as a nation, and world, to grow strong for You! We pray this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.