Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are Trials a Gift?

Yesterday I was reading James 1. I have read and quoted some of the passages of this chapter to myself numerous times during my journey with pain, but I was struck by the context of James 1:17.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17

I think I have most seen this passage used in regards to welcoming a new baby. Maybe it's just the season of life I am in, but I have seen numerous wall hangings for a baby's room or birth announcements saying "Every good and perfect gift is from above". And it's true. Every good and perfect gift is from God especially babies, but let's look at the context, or what surrounds this passage (including the rest of the passage-"coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.").

James 1:1-18 addresses Christians concerning trials and temptations (read it yourself here for the context). A couple of my favorite encouraging verses come from this passage.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,[referring to eternal life] which God has promised to those who love him." James 1:12
I found it interesting that James 1:17 is included in this passage that is mostly about trials. It seems to me that God is reminding us of His goodness and ultimate control even in the hard times of faith's testing. God's intent for those who love Him is always good as we see clearly in Romans 8:28 and Matthew 7:11, "If you then (speaking of human parents) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.".  In the midst of suffering it often feels like God is giving us a serpent when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7:10) but we have to again remember that our definition of "good" and God's definition are not always the same.

God sees the big picture and the end result that we cannot see. James 1:17 reminds us that God is "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." God is the same God who is working all things for our good when there is a blessing like the birth of a precious baby and when precious babies remain in orphanages while their loving family has waited years and continues to await permission from the Ethiopian government for their children to be brought home (like our friends). God doesn't change and His good plans do not change. All this ways are perfect and just (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 18:30).

This new view of James 1:17 has challenged me to think differently about what constitutes a good gift. I believe my pain has been a good gift allowing me a greater empathy to others' suffering, helping me focus on things that are truly important in life (namely God and His glory), and humbling me requiring me to truly rely on God's provision and grace.

What are some of the good gifts God has given you that you have not always thought of as good?

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