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.
Relate: Two slices and a drink. It cost me nine lira. At the time that was about $2.25 in US currency. This was my Christmas dinner back in 2016. It was the first time in months that I was able to “splurge” and do something nice for myself. Two weeks later I really went hog wild crazy. For my birthday I bought myself a new shirt (20 lira) and went out to eat again (15 lira this time). My financial trial that had been growing steadily worse from September through the end of the year was finally drawing to a close. But my worries were far from over. The company I was supposed to be working for never even bothered turning my paperwork in to apply for my work visa. They knew it would not be accepted and so they didn’t even bother. Of course, I didn’t learn of this until early February. By that point, I had overstayed my previous work visa by over a month and a half at that point. I had set up an appointment for a one-year tourist visa but also pushed the appointment back as far as I possibly could. I knew no one from my sending country was getting accepted in this part of my adopted country. Hopefully, however, being able to prove I had the appointment would act as a cover for as long as possible. I was once again seriously wondering if I had heard God wrong when He said go. I had a lot of people praying for me. If God didn’t provide in some miraculous way by the time of that appointment, I would need to leave this new home. The appointment was for March 25. The first day at my current workplace on March 24.
My trials were nothing compared to some others I know. The very reason I had moved to my current home was that the pastor of a local church here had been deported. He had gone for a few days to visit other believers and meet the needs of some displaced people in a neighboring country. When he was returning, he had been stopped at the airport and sent back. He is now never allowed to return. While I was struggling with my complete lack of finances, another pastor in another city here had been arrested and ended up spending years in jail. His recent release and deportation back to the US made major news headlines. I know of multiple Christians fleeing the war and terror to the south who have been harassed, detained, and even beat up by local law enforcement. One brother turned down the opportunity for his family to find refuge in Brazil because it would have left the local Arabic speaking community of believers leaderless. I was speaking with a European friend about her recent experiences. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard this: “It was nice. No really, the prison was definitely a lot nicer than I thought it would be.”
React: Once we get past the traditional “from me to you” that opens up every letter from this time, James immediately launches into advice on how to deal with persecution. Think about that… the very first thing written in the entire New Testament are these words: “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.” This was the elephant in the room that needed to be dealt with before anything else could be brought up. Right from the start, persecution was the norm, not the exception to the rule. And I’m not talking about, “my neighbor thinks I am weird because I won’t stop talking about Jesus.” No. This is more like, “my neighbors are now going to throw rocks at me until I am dead because I won’t stop talking about Jesus.”
In the book Insanity of Obedience, Neil Ripken talks about four types of persecution. The first is governmental persecution. This is like what Russia experienced during their days of communism. The second type is where the government turns a blind eye while some other group carries out the persecution. Pilate washes his hands while the local synagogue (or mosque in my time and place) does the deed. The third and most effective is family or societal persecution. A person becomes a Christian. Their boss fires them. Their best friends turn on them, and their own family disowns them or seeks to have them killed. There is a fourth type of persecution he mentions. This is self-inflicted persecution. It is when, out of fear of potential persecution, the church silences itself. If I speak out, I might get deported. If I witness to my family, they might take my children and put me in a mental hospital. Or even, if I witness to my neighbor, he might think I am weird. How often do we silence ourselves because of fear? I wonder, if we took these very first words written in the New Testament to heart, would this fourth type of persecution cease to exist?
I pray that my love for You would be stronger than any fear of the consequences of obedience. I have been commanded to go, but sometimes the what-ifs that arise from my going keep my feet planted and my lips sealed tight. Help me to consider it a joy to face trials. Not only does that fire create gold, but it also means I am honored with the privilege of sharing in Your suffering. Give me the faith to trust You, no matter what trials may come.