Recently, I’ve been reading James. It’s such a wonderful little book of wisdom. You can read it in a few minutes. It’s easy to read again and again several days in a row, because it’s such a tiny package full of goodies.
There’s a passage that so often confused me, but recently I understood in a new way. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing….
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements. God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
James 1:2-4, 9-12 NLT
The part that confused me wasn’t necessarily the first part. Trials are an opportunity to develop character. I get that. I don’t enjoy it, but on some level it’s always made sense to me. I mostly included that for context.
Where I always got a little lost is when James says that the poor have something to boast about, and that the rich should boast that God has humbled them. I understood that riches were transient and couldn’t be counted on. I knew the love of money was the cause of a lot of evil, but money managed well can be a blessing from God and to many. What’s so humbling about being rich? Where is the honor in being poor? I felt like riches and poverty weren’t eternal, so how could one have value over the other?
Lately, as I read it, a light went on. There had been clues along the way. Hebrews says that faith is a substance. When you are poor or made weak in some way, your faith and patience get a great opportunity to grow. Those who stand up under a trial receive a crown. Proverbs tells us to buy wisdom, and never sell it. I always knew that my understanding of these verses was limited, because of my earthly perspective, but I couldn’t imagine what the heavenly perspective was.
I’ve begun to see that faith, hope, love, gentleness, patience and self-control are commodities in heaven. They’re as visible and tangible as the things money can buy here on earth. When we get to heaven, they’ll be the clothing and crown that we wear. They’ll be the beauty and authority we’re adorned with. They will be completely visible and obvious, in spite of the fact that they’re often hidden here. In the heavenly realm, the attributes of God are as plain to see as all the education, popularity, muscles, diamonds, cars, and beauty money can buy here. Whatever gives you clout here means little there. Whatever is eternal and of value to God is what we will be visible there. It’s not about earning them either, but trusting God to do it in us and responding to Him. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is priceless to our Father. The relationship we have cultivated with Him will be our most valuable asset there.
That’s not to say that earthly riches are bad and being poor is good. The psalmist said, the Lord gives riches and adds no sorrow to it. Riches are a gift, too. In many places in scripture, riches are associated with the blessing of the Lord. It’s just that when we find ourselves in a tight spot, instead of seeing it as an end of the blessing, we can see it as a path to greater blessing when we have an eternal perspective.
C. S. Lewis said, “If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction and it’s not so bad.” With the earth as our training ground, being poor is like an internship with the most successful person in your field. Riches are more like an ordinary internship. An astute person could learn much and become very successful with any internship, but most people would feel more honored to get an internship with Oprah than your local newspaper. Trials can be times of acceleration. In the Kingdom, poverty and trials of any kind are your big opportunities with Oprah, while having riches and an easy life is more like a typical internship with your local newspaper. Both can be launching pads, but one is more likely to challenge and educate you on the nitty gritty of how to be successful.
Several years ago, I had a trial. I really blew it. I probably handled it the worst I had ever handled a trial. I kicked and screamed through much of the ordeal. In God’s mercy, I came to my senses, repented, and, by His grace, got through it. When the trial was over, and I was relieved, but my joy was incomplete. I picked up a few gems along the way, but I knew I’d been too blind, proud, hurt, or stubborn to pick most of them up. It’s hard to pick things up when you’re kicking and screaming. When you’re quietly walking with a Friend, it’s the most natural thing to do.
In the years following, I noticed something. Some people went through tragic circumstances and ended up with more spiritual authority on the other side. Others just suffered like I had. One day, while I was with the Lord, I was talking to Him about that previous trial that I hadn’t handle so well. I wasn’t feeling condemned, but I was well aware that I had missed a golden opportunity. I was hungry for everything He had for me, not just the low hanging fruit. I told Holy Spirit, “Next time I go through a trial, I won’t waste it. Help me not to waste it.” I wasn’t asking for trouble. We don’t have to do that. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” I don’t like to suffer. I hate it. I was saying, If I have to go through another trial, help me receive every spiritual jewel I can out of it. Even if it’s totally unseen here, I know You will see it there and honor it. I want to have a crown to give You when I get home.
Recently, I’ve been given an internship with Oprah. I’m not going to waste it. Sure, I’ll cry. I’ll have bad days. I’ll lament to the Lord and call friends needing prayer. I often don’t understand. I want it to end now. Or yesterday! Let’s just wrap this up, Lord!
By His grace, though, I will hold onto His goodness and let hope in Him anchor my soul. I’ll trust Him to be my Shield and not bother wrestling with flesh and blood. I’ll put on His righteousness as the breastplate protecting my heart. I will bend low and obey the small nudges, even when I don’t understand, trusting that when I do there will be a jewel down there for me. I will live for the applause of Heaven. His eye is on me. He knows this road I’m on. He’ll carry me when nothing makes sense and bad news piles up. He has good news every day. Most often the good news is that He’s totally in love with me, while I’m totally destitute in my own frame. He comes in, and I’m rich. The kindness in His eyes carries me.
By His grace, I won’t waste it this time. I’ll behold Him and be held by Him.