Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 NIV

 

It was a long, tough winter. Record-breaking, as it turned out.

January was mild enough but the worst was to come.

On February 6, my journal recorded 3-4 inches of snow and -12o. The cold and the snow kept coming. For weeks, we arose to grey skies and swirling snowflakes. On February 19 my thermometer read -26o. It snowed heavily for three days in a row—something I haven’t seen in 40 years. By the 28th, we peered out our kitchen window at this:

Even the onset of March gave us no relief. I took this picture on the morning of the 5th, crying, “I’m so OVER this!”

That morning, we were the third coldest place on the planet!

As we all huddled inside and tried our best to endure, a bronchial-respiratory bug began making the rounds. I wasn’t as sick as I’ve been in recent winters, but I was sick enough to go to the doctor. The cough lingered on, along with general weakness and shortness of breath. Then the constant coughing kicked up pain in my back.

For the first time since I learned to ski, I experienced all the misery of winter with none of the fun. At first, it was far too snowy and cold to try skiing. Then, I was too sick and weak to plow through the feet of accumulated snow.

I stared out the window and sighed.

Then I worried about a granddaughter who was diagnosed with a rare and painful bone condition after weeks of testing…and her family, trying to move to a new house in the midst of it all. And another old friend who I’d shared many a ski trail with died suddenly. Even small doses of the daily news made me want to shut my ears and scream. Restricted by my newly-discovered milk and egg allergies, I couldn’t even turn to the foods which had been my comfort since childhood.

I staggered into Bible study that Tuesday afternoon in mid-March, struggling to find joy anywhere, my faith weighed down by one trial after another.

Until discussion with my colleagues lead me to the Book of James.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” we read. Really? Joy?

Then we came to the heart of the passage: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete…”

Radio teacher Charles Swindoll once said the Greek word translated as “perseverance” means to “hold up under,” picturing a little donkey grunting under a big load. Since we had owned and loaded donkeys for many years, the illustration stuck. So I shared it. And we laughed together.

Ah, yes. The purpose of trials is to teach us how to “hold up under,” to strengthen our endurance muscle. We do that as we strengthen any muscle—through exercise. It isn’t fun and it isn’t painless but it does us good in the long run. James says we will be “…mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Who doesn’t want that?

Somehow my load felt lighter. I remembered why enduring it mattered. I knew my fellow Christians understood and were cheering me on. Their encouragement was enough to keep me going.

In my life-long journey of faith, how many times has the church been there for me like that, doing what it just did? How often have fellow-believers made a huge difference in my faith? More than I can count.

I believe that’s the church’s most important job: to stand with and for each other. To be part of that “great crowd of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Now the church isn’t perfect; no group of imperfect people is.

But ask any coach how much better his team plays when the stadium is full of cheering fans. They can make the difference between winning and losing. Basketball coaches often call their fans “the sixth man (player).”

Does the church matter?

What do you think?