“Consider it a pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”—James 1:2-5 NIV
James opens his epistle with the exhortation to endure the struggles that life throws our way with joy. Why in the world would James make such an audacious suggestion? Furthermore, what does it have to do with scratching the itch our souls often sense?
The Greek word James chooses to uses for perseverance is a word that is actually sparingly used in the rest of the New Testament, however James can’t seem to get enough of it. It is the word hypomeno—and it saturates James’ letter. Hypomeno is not a passive understanding of endurance where someone has to helplessly take whatever is given to them. Instead, it is active and redemptive in its nature and—in the Greek culture of James’ day—it was one of the highest virtues because it brought about the completion of our personhood.
We live in a culture obsessed with “finding our identity”—and having a healthy understanding of our inherent dignity, value, and purpose is a very good thing. Yet what we will find is that God does not seem to be all that concerned with us finding our identities—as if they were somehow lost. Rather, God seems to be more concerned with us completing our identities, as if to say that they are instead unfinished.
This is why James writes in verse 4 that we must make ourselves fully present to the struggles of life. We have a tendency to disengage and detach ourselves from the world around us. And while we may rightly point to the sterile glow of a screen that is preferred to the interaction with an actual human being as an example of this disengagement, James is pointing us to an even deeper level of engagement to our world. James urges us to be continually engaged in our world—even when it involves struggle.
Because when the “squeeze” comes so-to-speak—that’s when the good stuff starts happening.
We do not discover who we have been made to be from any sermon, book, or conference. Instead, we discover what we are made of by being let out. Like discovering the contents of a condiment package or a tube of toothpaste, we find out what’s really inside of us when we are squeezed by life’s trials.
The reason trials are good, is that they are the process by which God continues to form us. They are beneficial because it is through trials that we truly discover ourselves. How do you get ketchup out of the packet? You squeeze it. How do you get toothpaste out of the tube? You squeeze it. How are you and I let out into our world?
See—you and I—unlike the condiment package, have unmarked exteriors. We have no label. The only way to discover what we are made of is by the squeeze that comes upon us. We find out who we are by being let out, which is exactly how God designed it. When we are squeezed out, not only do we reach the maturity of our personhood, but the wonderful new life that Jesus has formed within us is spilled out as well. Your city aches for the Kingdom work that God has formed in you to be emptied out onto her sidewalks, into her taverns, and within her homes.
A condiment cannot fulfil its purpose in the packet. Toothpaste cannot fulfill its purpose in the tube. You and I can’t fulfill our purpose unless we too are squeezed out into the world.