Every once in a while someone comes up to me and says, "I
have a real hard time with a specific passage in the New
Testament." Then they pull out verse two from the first chapter
of James: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you
face trials of many kinds." They say, "What am I supposed to
do with this text in the Bible that tells me to be filled with joy
over the tragedies that come into my life?" They look me
square in the eyes and say, "I just lost my job." Or, "I just lost
my mother to a battle with cancer, and I'm pretty far from
being joyful about it."
Some people try to set me up by asking a leading question.
They say, "Bill, do you think authenticity is important? Do you
think God wants us to be genuine?" If I say, "Generally, yes,"
they get a look in their eyes that says to me, "I've got you now!"
They say, "My baby was stillborn." Or, "My brother died of
leukemia last month." Or, "My husband walked out on me
with no warning." And then they tell me of their sorrow.
Genuine, real, deep sorrow.
Then come the questions: "Does this section of the Bible
really say that I should be joyful and happy about this suffering?
How does this passage of the Bible fit in with what I am
facing in my life?"
What I have discovered over the years is that these people are
usually not looking for a biblical sparring partner. Rather, they
are looking for real, deep, and lasting answers to the aching in
their hearts. They want to know what God has to say to them in
the middle of their pain. If there is any joy or peace to be found
in the storm they are experiencing, they want to know about it.
Making the Connection
1. Describe a difficult or painful experience when your heart
hungered to find meaning, peace, and even joy in the middle
of the crisis.
Knowing and Being Known
Read James 1:1-4
2. How can trials and difficult times (v. 2) develop perseverance
in a follower of Christ?
How have you experienced this in your own life?
3. James says that perseverance will lead to maturity and
completion (v. 3). How has God been growing perseverance
in your life in the past year?
How have you matured as a follower of Christ though this
time of perseverance?
4. What is one area where you have been trying to persevere, but are feeling tempted to quit? What has been wearing
How can your small group members encourage and support
you as you persevere in this area of your life?
5. What do you think James would say to a follower of Christ
who was ready to bail out on their faith in the middle of a
6. What character qualities are forged in our lives when we
persevere through the fires of trials and suffering?
Read Job 1:13-2:13
7. How did Job deal with his loss, pain, and suffering?
How can this be a model for you when times of trial come
8. How did Job express trust in the character of God (Job
1:20; 2:10) through his suffering?
What is one attribute of God's character that gives you hope
in times of loss and trial?
9. Later in the story, Job's friends give some poor counsel.
However, their first response is healthy and helpful. What
positive examples do you see in the response of Job's three
friends (Job 2:11-13) to his suffering?
10. When you come alongside someone who is in a time of
suffering, what are some authentic and compassionate
ways you can care for him or her?
Who needs your help right now? What can you do to support
him or her?
Celebrating and Being Celebrated
Pray for those in your small group who are going through a
time of struggle and trials. Also, pray for God to use you as an
encourager and comforter to those who are hurting. Second
Corinthians 1:3-4 says:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who
comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have
received from God.
Pray for God to use you as an instrument of His comfort
Serving and Being Served
Take time in the coming month to study the book of Job. Read
it closely and allow God to speak to your heart and life. Also,
as you reflect deeply on this record of suffering, pray for God
to bring to mind people in your life who are going through a
time of trial. These can be family members, small group members,
neighbors, or anyone you know. Talk to these people
about what you have learned from James and Job about perseverance
and God's presence in the middle of the storms of life.
Let them know you are praying for them and that you may not
have answers to their pain, but that God will be with them
each step of the way and so will you.
Loving and Being Loved
There is an old saying, "Ninety percent of caring is just showing
up." Job's friends extended loving care by showing up,
weeping with Job, and sitting silently alongside his sickbed.
For seven days and nights they sat silently sharing in Job's
sorrow. The trouble began when they started talking and trying
to explain Job's situation. Sitting in silence is a powerful
act of love.
Consider going as a small group to a local retirement home
or hospital. Call first and get the names of a few people who
do not get many visitors, and be sure the management will let
you visit. Commit yourselves to sit along the bedside of the
people in need and pray for them. Even if they can't communicate,
your presence will mean so much. If they can communicate,
talk with them, listen to them, and simply get to know
them. The next time your small group meets, tell each other
about what happened in this time of visitation.
You also might want to call your pastor and see if you have
some people from your church who would like a visit. Let your
pastor know that they don't have to be responsive. Tell your
pastor what you learned in this study and about your desire to
simply come alongside a person in need.
An Example of Perseverance
In the nineties, there was one man in the NBA who was the most
feared fourth-quarter player in all of professional basketball. If you know
anything about the sport, you know his name before it is spoken: Michael
Jordan. If you follow basketball at all, and if you ever saw him play, you
know that Michael never quit. When the going got tough and the game
was on the line, when other players caved in to mental or physical
exhaustion, he raised his game up a notch or two. You could almost feel
the sense of hopelessness sweep over the other team.
When everyone else was exhausted, mentally fatigued, and bending
over to catch their breath, Michael Jordan was going for steals, diving for
loose balls, driving the length of the floor, and giving one hundred percent.
He never gave up. He was an opponent's worst nightmare.
The Easy Way Out
I fear our generation has come dangerously near the "I'm-getting-tired-so-let's-just-quit"
mentality. And not just in the spiritual realm. Dieting
is a discipline, so we stay fat. Finishing school is a hassle, so we bail out.
Cultivating a close relationship is painful, so we back off. Working
through conflicts in a marriage is a tiring struggle, so we walk away.
Sticking with an occupation is tough, so we start looking elsewhere.
-Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Zondervan, 1983, p. 70)
In a world where quitting has become chronic, God says persevere!
Too many people are taking the easy way out. This is true in many realms
of life, including the spiritual realm. Yet God tells us through James that
perseverance through the tough times is the pathway to spiritual maturity
A Partner in Suffering
Suppose you knew that the coming week was going to bring a very
powerful trial into your life. What if you knew this trial was going to back
you into a corner, bruise your heart, and test the limits of your endurance?
If you could choose one biblical character to walk with you through
this time of testing (besides Jesus Christ), who would you invite? My guess
is that nine out of ten would pick Job, because he went through a series
of heartaches, tragedies, and trials unlike what almost any other person
in history has ever experienced.
In a brief period of time, Job lost all of his sons and daughters in a freak
accident. He lost all of his livestock and wealth. He lost all of his employees.
Finally, his body broke out in a painful sickness that included open and
aching sores. To top it all off, three of his closest friends told him that all
of this must be a judgment from God due to sin in Job's life. When Job
thought it could not get any worse, his loving wife whispered in his ear, "If
I were you, I'd just curse God and die!"
Yet in all of this, Job persevered and clung to God with all of his might.