James is a letter written to the early persecuted Church (some scholars believe it to be written while King Herod was oppressing the Church in Acts 12), and so is often referred to as a sort of handbook on how to persevere through persecution. The book is also understood as a guide on how to act like a Christian, how to authentically live out your faith in everyday life, and not just to know how to be a Christian.
This first section focuses on the topic of trials and on how to persevere through them. When discussing what persecution looks like today, we examined how it takes a very different form in our own lives (living in a community that widely accepts Christianity) than it did in the time of James in which Christianity was uncommon or socially unacceptable. We realized that persecution takes a different form for us, it materializes more discreetly in the form of fear. While being a Christian is accepted in our culture, even non-Christians tolerate it without much opposition, as Christians we still often fear to label ourselves as a Follower of Christ because we A) don't want people to lose respect for us in a professional or social setting once we admit we are one of Faith, B) want so badly to be part of a crowd (if you will) or generally be just like everyone else in our group of peers, and C) fear that by speaking for and about God in the lives of others we might alienate a friend/family member/coworker such that they will become closed to having a relationship with us...or to a relationship with God. So, this fear is a sort of self-persecution that comes from a lack of trust in God's ability to equip us and God's ability to overcome culture...and really, what do we have to lose in speaking boldly for Christ in the lives of others? What is the worst that could happen? Lose face? Wound our pride? Get flushed or embarrassed when we don't speak as eloquently as we had hoped?
In the discussion of personal examples of trials, we settled into an analogy about working out a muscle. When you are training for a long race, hike, or some sort of athletic competition you have to train your muscles. Training them makes them sore, makes them feel worn down and weak, to the point in which you feel they may never function properly again...may just dissolve on the spot. In order to build a muscle up so that it can function at the proper potential at the task it will soon face (i.e. the hike, race, competition) you have to sort of break it down first, wear it down to make it stronger than it was before. The same occurs with our faith. That is why James says "consider it pure joy" when we "face many trials" because the trials are the working out of our faith muscle such that we can build up and become equipped for the tasks God calls us to. It hurts and it is hard. We feel weak and almost homeless at times. Giving up sound much better than continuing under the weight of our burdens. But it is at during such times that we should call these verses in James to mind.
This led me to recall the metaphor C.S. Lewis gives about us being a work of art...I'll let his words speak for themselves:
“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”
We started the discussion on the difference between wisdom and knowledge: whether they are different and (if so) how do we distinguish between the two. To be honest, we found it hard to explain the difference to ourselves although we agree that in the Biblical sense, there is a difference. In general, we described knowledge as facts, as information you can learn and memorize from study. In contrast, wisdom is something that must be gained by experience, through the application of knowledge in our lives.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
We next touched upon where we seek wisdom which boiled down to: 1) the Bible (all wisdom is always consistent with God's Word), 2) prayer (conversation with God to petition for wisdom and discernment in our lives), 3) other Brothers and Sister (to check our interpretation of scripture and to learn mutually through each others' areas of wisdom).
This section proved both confusing and (at first) a bit distressing to read. To the notion of being "double-minded" (being between belief and unbelief) we each admitted that we rarely (if ever) felt that we completely believed in anything the Bible said, or were in complete faith that God would answer a given prayer, without some doubts or questions being part of the mix. When I read into some commentary on this section, I was directed to Mark 9: 14-29. In this passage a man asks Jesus to heal his son "if" Christ could...which implies disbelief that Jesus would be able. When Jesus questions the man about it the man cries out "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief." In this example, the man is not double-minded...he wants to believe, he wants his faith to grow, so in the eyes of God this is not being "double-minded." In fact, struggling through unbelief, wanting to be rid of doubts and being honest with God that we have them, is part of the working our of our faith, as discussed above.
We concluded with some discussion on where we are personally in our walk of Faith with God, what God seems to be calling us to our challenging us on in order to develop perseverance within us. In closing we read a little bit of C.S. Lewis' discussion of faith from his book Mere Christianity...this excerpt specfically:
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.
And that was our take away from the meeting, our prayer for the week: to look at trails as a means of strengthening our Faith in perseverance for tasks we are called to, and to meditate on Faith as a habit that must be trained...and how we each personally can do so in our day-to-day life.