"This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. Greetings! Dear brothers and sisters when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
I am not an artist but have enjoyed using this sketch book to help me memorize the verses. As I draw/doodle, I slow me down and am able to see words that I had not noticed before or even come up with a theme for the verses I am learning. For me, the theme of these two verses was an opportunity for great joy.
The book of James starts off with James introducing himself to his readers? How does he do this? Does James mention he is the brother of Jesus? Does he state his authority? No, he identifies himself as a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. What is a slave? A slave could be defined as one owned by another, or according to the Oxford dictionary, slave also means devotee and worshiper. James wants to be known as a person who is owned by and devoted to God. Being a slave is hard. A slave's will is not his own. It is from this perspective that James is speaking to the Jewish Christians scattered abroad.
Next, James transitions from his greeting straight into his message. "When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." He doesn't say IF you have troubles but WHEN you have troubles. When troubles come, I use to think I wasn't praying hard enough or I did something wrong. I shouldn't have troubles if I am doing what I am suppose to be doing, but James is not the only biblical author to speak about believers having troubles. Peter reminds his readers in I Peter 1:7 that they will have to endure trials. Even Jesus in John 16:33 says that "In this world, you will have troubles." This makes me feel better knowing troubles are going to come. When I know something is going to happen, I can be better prepared. It also means I am not doing something wrong unless the trial or trouble comes because of some sin in my life.
But what do I do when troubles come my way? Well, my personal preference is to complain or try to get out of it. I also try to fix it or find a way around it. On the other hand, what does James say to do when troubles come our way? His advice is to "consider it an opportunity for great joy." I have heard this verse interpreted that we should be joyful about our troubles. I don't necessarily think this is what it says. It says consider it an opportunity for great joy. In considering it an opportunity for great joy, my focus is on what God can do in the situation. My mindset is on God using the situation and me in the situation. My hope is set on God making something beautiful out of the mess. This means that I am not complaining or trying to fix it in my own strength. It means I am NOT blaming those around me for my problems. It means my focus and trust are on God and what He can do.
This last year has been a challenging year, but looking back I have seen God's hand in the midst of the hard. There has been opportunity for great joy even if I didn't see it at first. For example, last spring the moms and children of our team were asked to leave Central Asia for the summer due to security. I didn't want to leave. I had plans for the summer. We had just returned to Central Asia in February, and I was not ready to go back to the states. You could say I left kicking and screaming. It was hard being away from my husband most of the summer as he rotated in and out. It was hard not living in our own place but it was a good summer. There were lots of opportunities for great joy. My daughter was able to be more confident in her driving even taking independent excursions out. Both W and Big D had the opportunity to help at camps. We had extra time working on relationships with others back home. I even was able to start running again. Most of the all, the summer gave us time to rest and refresh giving us the strength we would need for the fall.
From our summer experience and others, I am slowly learning to consider every circumstance an opportunity for great joy. When our school unexpectedly closed this January and we were scrambling for school options for W and Big D, I was able to see opportunities for great joy. Homeschooling my children would give me extra time to invest in them and prepare them for being more on their own next fall. Our curriculum was a good fit and just what my children need for this season. I also would have time to spend with other team members as we meet for coffee to pray and share about our lives here. I have even met my local neighbor and started building a friendship with her. These are opportunities for great joy. I still grieve the loss of my school and my students there. In many ways, I feel like I have let them down by not being able to be their teacher. So no, it is not easy but by considering it an opportunity for great joy, my mindset is set on Christ and not on my circumstance.
I also realize that my troubles are minor compared to so many others. Some people reading this may be faced with a diagnosis of cancer or loss of a job. Maybe a loved one is dying or in jail. Considering these things opportunities for great joy will not be easy. The outcome may not be a happily ever after. At the end of December, two friends of W and Big D died. I was inspired to see the mom of these two teens reach out in love to those around her in the midst of her grief. In the midst of the tragedy, this mom considered it an opportunity for great joy. Her family's testimony was a light in the this dark place. Yes, this mom is grieving. Yes, her life will never be the same. Yet for her, she has a God who never changes and that makes all the difference.
These verses have challenged me to think of myself as a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. With this identity, I am better able to consider the troubles that come my way as opportunities for great joy. I am also challenged to be prepared to have a mindset that considers all things an opportunity for great joy. What are some troubles or hard times that have come your way challenging you to consider them an opportunity for great joy? What helps you consider your circumstances-easy or hard to be an opportunity for great joy?
UP NEXT WEEK: Why should we consider our troubles an opportunity for great joy.