Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night. It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds. When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over. I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm. I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.
I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil. “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought. And that’s what I did. I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure. So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.
This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash. They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs. Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt. Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green. They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them. And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm. They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm. Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived. And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.
I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months. I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs. So many heartaches from so much suffering! What’s a person to do? And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?
James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue. He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” James said what? Consider it joy when we suffer? I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.” Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well? We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions. Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself. Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.
James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy. He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties. Notice the word “under.” Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear. No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives. Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.
Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally. How do we do that, anyway? Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life. Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt. But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.” We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us. We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts. That’s called faith. Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.
I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition. And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing. James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development. He also says that I will lack nothing. My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart. Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.
Like the hymn writer said:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.
So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy. Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.
And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone. He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.
It’s so good to know that God is in control. He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him. May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.