“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2–4)
When do we grow the most as a disciple of Jesus?
I think most people would naturally think that growth happens best when life is going well. Surely we will grow and mature in the Christian life when we are not bothered and distracted by many different things? Surely those times when we truly have time for God and his word will be the times when we develop most as disciples?
That is our natural and understandable reaction, and it leads to a particular way of thinking. “I can’t wait for life to get easier,” we find ourselves thinking. “I will really concentrate on my life with Jesus when everything calms down.” We put the growth of our Christian discipleship on hold because we think we need everything else in life to be going well first.
What is fascinating is that the reality is often quite different. In my role as a pastor, I speak to a lot of people about their faith. What I find is that for most people, the rimes when they grow the most as Christians are the times when life is difficult. It is not the easy time, but rather the harder times that produce the greatest growth in our lives.
There are lots of potential reasons for this. When life is tough, it exposes those areas of our lives in which we need to grow. Not only that, it also opens up the ground in our hearts for God to do his transforming work. Times of difficulty and suffering reveal our need for God and draw us closer to him in dependence. James goes as far to say “consider it pure joy” when we face trials. That might be a bit much for most of us, but trials do produce godliness in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, times of trouble are often the fruitful times in our lives.
None of this removes the pain of suffering or the difficulty of facing trials in our lives. It does not make pain pleasant or grief good. But it does remind us that God is at work in the midst of suffering and struggle. We don’t need to wait until trials are over for growth to happen. We don’t need life to be easy to develop as a disciple. We can look for the work of God in the midst of difficult times and expect him to be at work in our hearts and lives.