COLLINS COLUMN: Flavors of Trials: Finding Wisdom in Various Kinds

Published 9:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

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If you are old enough, you might remember that Howard Johnson promised 28 flavors of ice cream. As a child, I don’t think I was able to taste more than three or four. And then came Baskin-Robbins and their 31 flavors, though I read they have actually produced about 1,400 flavors over the years. But how many flavors of ice cream does one really need to have a moment of happiness while eating this delicious treat?

The book of James was written by a faithful follower of Christ who had enough wisdom to not tell us how many kinds of trials we would have on our journey to maturity. He simply said we would meet trials of “various kinds” and that we can actually discover joy on our journey. There is a part of me, though, that would like to know the number of trials we have to experience so that I can tell if I am at my limit. But I suppose that as long as we have one more trial, then two things are true: we aren’t dead yet, and we haven’t reached perfection or full maturity in Christ.

I read an article the other day that listed the number of college presidency positions currently open. While protests over how college presidents deal with protestors seems to be a current driver of resignations, the trend of shorter tenures is not new. In 2008, the average tenure of a college president was eight and a half years. In 2016, it was down to six and a half years, and in 2022 it shrunk to 5.9 years. I suspect the numbers will continue to drop due to a variety of factors, including financial viability, declining enrollments due to declining birthrates, the devaluation of a college degree in the media, and the rising cost of tuition, which ties to the massive college debt problem.

However hard I might think the job of a college president is, I don’t think I am alone in experiencing an increasing amount of trials of various kinds. My friends in a variety of occupations also describe increased pressures in their industries as well. And then we have the trials that come as the moral fabric of society is in decline.

The early followers of Christ knew significant hardships. The church of the first century dealt with persecution more as a norm than as an exception, yet we find Peter, James, and Paul all speaking about discovering joy in the middle of their suffering as they faced imprisonment, torture and eventual death.

The book of James is filled with hope and practical ways to gain wisdom and experience joy, while reaching new levels of maturity. James does not avoid the hard topics but rather jumps right into the challenges we all face as disciples, and the first is that we will face many trials. James quickly reminds us that these trials have an end result. As we go through hardships of various kinds, we develop endurance and become more and more mature in our faith.

If we jump down to verse five, we discover that God offers an unlimited supply of wisdom if we would simply and confidently ask him for it. With God’s wisdom in hand, we can navigate our trials more confidently as we trust that the sovereignty of God will prevail.

One problem we have is forgetting that God is working his divine plan at all times and that in the end all things do, in fact, work out for good and according to his eternal purposes. When we trust that God is extending his kingdom on the path to the return of Christ, we can have more confidence that he will get us through the trial or difficulties we might bump into today and tomorrow.

James isn’t saying that our trials won’t be hard or that we should think they are fun. What James had discovered and is offering to teach us is that with the wisdom of God in one hand and faith that God is in charge of all the outcomes in the other hand, we can take a breath, knowing that God will not abandon us but will bring us to maturity in Christ as we obey his will.

Whether we experience a few, 31, or hundreds of trials, God has promised that he will go through every one of our trials with us, that we might discover both the joy of his presence but also a depth of maturity we could not have previously imagined.

Father, thank you for your promise of providing the wisdom we need to navigate the difficulties of our lives. Thank you for reminding us that our trials increase our faith in you and increase our maturity as believers. For that, we do acknowledge that we have felt and known the joy of abiding in Christ. Open our eyes to see you in each moment, knowing that you have a perfect plan for us and for all of your creation. We long for your return with great anticipation of one day seeing the rest of the story you are writing in our lives and in the world. In Jesus’ name, amen.