by Rob Tims
Our 10-day swing from Nashville to southeast Florida to southwest Florida and back home was going pretty well a few days in. We were staying with friends near West Palm (4 adults and 8 kids) a few days prior to my preaching at their church, soaking in the south Florida November sunshine.
On Sunday morning, our second-born had a terribly high fever and plenty of other flu-like symptoms. I’d never seen him so miserable. The plan had been to worship and drive to see my mother (dying of ALS) for Thanksgiving, but with him having the flu, we had to change plans. So at 2:00 PM on a Sunday in Boca Raton, the decision was made: we’re driving back to Nashville.
We made it south of Valdosta before exhaustion set in (to say nothing of my son’s condition), so we booked two rooms for the price of 1 via Priceline at a Drury Inn in Valdosta and persevered into town in the midst of the most horrific storm I’ve ever driven through.
Our youngest wasn’t yet sleeping through the night, so that combined with the flu and a foreign environment led to the worst night ever, which led to the longest drive home ever. And did I mention someone else threw up along the way? What a disaster.
And yet it is the story we love to tell, and laugh while we are telling it.
This is because the trip matured us. It humbled us, tried us and matured us. And so we look back on it with gratitude and laughter.
It’s a proper illustration for James’ wisdom in James 1:2-12, and I’d like for you to see three crucial things about trials and maturity from that passage.
First, the goal is maturity. James says, “Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (v. 4). God’s goal for me is maturity. I recall as a child complaining to my mother about random pains in my legs or arms from time to time. “Sounds like growing pains” she would say. She was not dismissing my pain, but calling my attention to the fact that my body was on a journey toward maturity. The same is true of our lives. The goal is nothing other than maturity.
Second, the path to that goal is testing, and the terrain of that path is trials. “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (v. 2-3b). The only path to maturity is the path of testing, and it’s not a smooth, straight road. Cutbacks, potholes, blind spots and the like abound. This one path is also the best path. In the same way the best outdoorsmen are those who have experienced great challenges in the wild, so too are the most mature Christians who see their trials on the path of testing as the means to the end of maturity.
Lastly, to enjoy this journey to maturity, humility is essential. We can only consider such a path as joyful (v. 2) when we do not boast in our ability to dodge or avoid the journey to maturity through a variety of means (vv. 5-11), but give thanks for the actions that God has sovereignly determined we need to be more like Jesus.
And if you doubt James’ wisdom, consider this: The cross is the proof (Romans 5:3-8). There’s a strong call here to repent of the kind of arrogance that is hard to identify at times … the kind associated with expecting we either should have an easy life or don’t need to mature.
So, friends “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4, The Message).
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.