Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
My former pastor told a story that’s stayed with me for over 20 years. A farmer had an old mule no longer useful to him yet, given their long history together, he couldn’t bear the thought of putting the beast down. A friend offered a more “painless” solution. “Dig a deep hole, cover it with plywood, and lure the mule onto the wood. When it gives way, the fall will kill the mule and if not, his agony will remain out of sight. The hole doubles as a grave. If you throw garbage on top of the mule, it will be dead and buried in no time!” The plan went off without a hitch. The farmer got so accustomed to dumping trash down the hole he forgot the mule buried at its bottom. Then, one day, he went to the pit and there the mule stood, staring him in the face. It seems he climbed atop each new heap and regained his health by salvaging what nourishment the rubbish contained. The mule looked as strong as an ox; the farmer felt like an ass.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
No one skates through life without enemies, even if he/she does nothing to earn them. For some, merely how God created us—our gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—is sufficient reason to hate us. Others turn on us once we’re no longer useful to them. This is especially true when we come into our own, accepting ourselves and knowing God accepts us. Many who reject us contrive means to destroy us. They dig pits and attempt to bury us in malicious, malevolent trash. Not only does this remove us conveniently out of the picture. It conceals their hateful deeds from themselves. Indeed, the clean efficiency of their plan convinces them it’s the right, the best, the only thing to do. But keeping us—and their hatred—out of sight, out of mind also prohibits them from seeing another plan in play to foil their foul intentions and confront their evil.
“Consider it pure joy,” James tells us, “when you face many trials.” From time to time we land in a dark hole, broken, anguished, and confused about how we got there. Adversaries throw all their garbage at us. We see why; the overt fear behind their covert hatred can’t be missed. But their reasons and the real reason why we’re here aren’t the same. James teaches that trials develop patience. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1.4) We bolster our courage, summon our faith, and envision joy we’ll experience in coming out of this hole. It may take a while, but we persevere, emerging older, wiser, fully intact and fit. Knowing this, we find strength in each fresh deluge of insults and condemnation. Rather than smothering in filth hurled at us, we step on it, patiently climbing layer upon layer until we stare into our unnerved enemies’ eyes, unflinching, unfazed, and completely unafraid.
We may not know how we landed at the bottom of a hole, but we know how to climb out.
(Tomorrow: Hear Here)