Perseverance is a very painful word. James writes in this passage that perseverance is developed through trials. Not just trials, my dearies, but trials of many kinds! And through perseverance, we become more mature and complete. That, after all, is the ultimate goal.
The equation is a lot like this:
Trials => Testing of faith => Perseverance => Becoming mature and complete
That sounds simple, right? But it isn’t when we’re talking about your own life.
I love the word perseverance because it requires a lot more than the dictionary meaning for us to fully grasp what it means. There are a number of synonyms and words related to perseverance like endurance or patience, but nothing is more commanding than perseverance.
When I was young, in order for me to understand the meaning, tone, and texture of a word, I think of a picture that will define it. Endurance is doing something again and again without stopping which is a lot like running a marathon. Perseverance, however, paints a very vivid picture on my mind. I see it as a man running a marathon in the rain… with another man strapped on his back.
Perseverance is striving for something, doing all that you can, even in the face of adversity. That is what James is talking about.
Trials are hard. No honest person can say with a straight face that going through trials is easy. It requires down to the ground pushing and shoving until you get it right. It’s waking up each day with the resolve that you will make the right choices even if the alternative is both easy and pleasurable.
It’s so hard that without divine help, man is bound to fail. That is why James reminds us in verse 5 that we can ask God for wisdom. It is wisdom that comes from God that can help us go through our trials. Let me give you some examples.
When you’re faced with the choice of whether to trust God by doing what’s right even when your friends do the wrong thing, it’s smart to go with the flow in order to blend in. But if you’re wise, it’s a totally different story. If you really think about it, skipping classes and playing computer games instead of studying isn’t the wise thing to do. It brings momentary enjoyment and satisfaction, but wouldn’t make sense in the long run.
When you’re faced with the decision to either be in a relationship with someone or to focus on your studies first, having a boyfriend may seem like the more attractive option. But if you’re wise, you’d consider a hundred other factors before you make that decision. Would you want to have someone right now and jeopardize the future that you may have or the real Mr. Right-For-You who’s bound to come in the future? Would someone who can’t wait until you’re ready have the patience that is necessary to do the right things in the future?
Only wisdom that comes from God can combat the sly and devious thoughts in our hearts and minds. In the case of trials, it’s God vs. your own desires. The real question is, do you really know what’s best for you?!
If humans were to be in full control of their lives, we would all be obese couch potatoes that won’t be doing something worthwhile with our lives. People who consider human beings as animals cite our instincts as proof of how we are not better off than the other mammals. If we were to be left alone without any standards for what is right, we are all pleasure-seeking animals. We look for what makes us happy and we can ultimately die doing that same thing again and again.
I remember the story of the laboratory mice who were allowed to experience “highs.” They eventually died pushing the button that let them feel that way, forgetting to rest and eat. That’s what temptation wants us to become. We don’t become free to do what we want. We are bound by our desire to please ourselves.
The only cure is perseverance with the aid of wisdom coming from God. Maturity is all about setting yourself aside and fighting against what you want in order for you to enjoy what it really means like to be complete. Chasing after pleasure won’t make you complete. Resisting its tempting embrace would. Perseverance is saying no again and again and doing something else instead.
What is your special fix? What completes your day? Maybe it’s time to start choosing not to do it so you can really and truly be complete.
And that’s my two cents on that.