The book of James was written in about AD 45-47 this book is one of the first books of the New Testament to be written. It is addressed to the first generation of Christians, who were mainly Jews, and predates most of the other books in the New Testament by a decade or more. Only Paul writing to the Galatians is thought to be written as early as James. So even the first generation of the early church, most of which would have been old enough to have known Jesus themselves, were experiencing difficulties, and their faith was being tested. From the commencement of his writing James tackles this theme of why the Christian life is not all plain sailing.
Last week we saw that to live the life God would like us to, we must surrender all our own desires and ambitions and live surrendered to his will. The life we gain is so much better than the life we give up.
But there is another reason why the Christian life is not always a smooth one. When God looks at us he is not looking for how we look, but at who we are. He does not just look at what we do, but at our motivation, where our heart is. James says that God is looking for maturity in us. James 1: 2-6 (CEV) My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything. If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won’t correct you for asking. But when you ask for something, you must have faith and not doubt.
So when we pray we must have faith, even the smallest amount of faith is enough, like a mustard seed grows into a large tree, faith will grow as it feeds on spiritual truth found in the bible and as we see our prayers answered. Also we must have sufficient character not to doubt, this comes from our experience of being tested. Opposition makes us look again at who we believe in, reassess our source of strength, and renew our determination to follow God in whatever way he is asking us.
In Daniel 3: 1-30 we are introduced to three people. They had been through a war and lost. They were now exiled in a foreign country being indoctrinated in the ways of Babylon. They placed their faith in God and adversity had developed their character. Pete Grieg puts it this way in his book:
“Living … in the space between the Fall and the resurrection, acknowledging both the terrible afflictions of life and the miracle-working power of prayer, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reminds us to believe in God even more than we believe in miracles. Like these three men, we trust that the God we serve is able to save us. We insist on the possibility of miracles. But to such faith we add faithfulness, so that even if our brave words fall flat—even if our prayers are not answered and we are plunged into the fiery furnace of suffering—we will still trust God.” **
** God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Greig. p138