“The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)
Jesus describes the behavior of seed that falls upon rocky soil in a segment of his parable of the sower (Matt. 13). The plantlet that sprouted grew but quickly succumbed to the sun’s heat for lack of roots. Jesus uses the illustration to explain a spiritual temperament that, although quickly and emotionally responsive, collapses in times of trial because faith was not rooted deeply enough in the heart to cause one to persevere. The entire parable is a masterful description of faith in the heart, but the seed on rocky soil provides a sobering lesson: People of faith are not immune to trouble, persecution, and tests, but quality faith makes a difference in how they handle circumstance and how God rewards those who endure.
The Nature of Faith
Faith is the gift of God to us. It comes from above to give sight—light to the spiritually dead that calls them to life and causes them to ponder godly things; sight to believing hearts to see new things about God and themselves. The orientation is always God-to-man: God is always reaching down to us, for we can never reach toward him unless he makes the first move. Our moving toward God is always a response. Faith is God’s channel for getting his supply—whatever it may be—to us, never our means of summoning him. Faith is indeed our assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen (Heb. 11:1), but only those things God indicates are possessions granted by him (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).
This is an important lesson to learn early in our walk with God because there will be tough days for the Christian. Those who come to Christ rightly approach with great joy and relief because the heart, fully awakened, is reunited with its Maker. But it is also the beginning of a process of acquainting God and his rich plan for our lives. That process, however, is often painful and unavoidably so. First, life never ceases to be what it is, and believers have to deal with its cares just as every other person does. Then, we don’t always see how carnal and sinful our faculties are and that, without refinement, we will oppose God’s plan and purpose for us. So God chooses to prune our hearts that we might bear abundant fruit, and this requires cutting.
Faith Determines Our Response
God never acts punitively toward us. Whenever he cuts, or allows pain in our lives, he does so as a surgeon to give us better life, not as a robber to take life away. And if we understand this well, then our attitude should be to willingly lay ourselves before the surgeon to do his work, an attitude produced only by spiritual discipline.
The apostle Paul interjects a small aphorism in his treatise in 2 Corinthians 5. He says, “We live by faith, not by sight” (v. 7). Rephrased: On this journey we proceed by the assurance and conviction of God himself and the promises given to us by him, living relationally toward them as if they were plainly evident and not according to the course of this world and our current situations. This is the root missing from the sapling in the rocky soil. What we know about God, by means of faith, and what he has promised us makes all the difference in how we respond when trouble arises and how a carnal Christian or non-believer responds.
Furthermore, how do we respond when we possess the promises of God in our hearts, but our circumstances find us moving further away from them? And when it seems that we will never fulfill God’s plan for our lives, let alone see it? What do we do when everything in our lives is being tested, but we are certain God spoke in our hearts? What do we do when we disqualify ourselves from the grace of God because of our own inadequacy or sin and yet find ourselves grimaced toward him for yet choosing us to his high and holy calling? You see, life happens to us all. Thankfully, believers have the assurance that in all they face God is at work perfecting their faith (Rom. 8:28).
Confidently Enduring Trial
Still, it is never easy. It is not always easy being the believer when what seems to be most certain is the chaos happening all around. It may be tough to stand and hold your ground when others give you the right to concede to options your faith and the Spirit within are telling you to avoid. But the person who wholly trusts God will allow faith to dictate how he endures trial. The heart that trusts him, though it bends, won’t snap when the winds of trouble come because it deems God’s promises surer than circumstances. James keenly observes that perseverance is born of faith (1:4).
Further, appearances can deceive. The scriptures show us a God who is sometimes ready to reveal his promise at moments when circumstances seem to shut out hopes for anything good. Thus, our confidence must remain and mature in God until his answer arrives. He wants to teach us that we are not to be victims of circumstances but champions with the promises of God. And let us also be certain that the Lord will himself test us. It is not always Satan or the trials of life that may buffet us. A test from the Lord is real and often experienced in his silence. God’s silence serves to try us with the promises he has already spoken in our hearts. Do they abide within? Are we clinging and relying on them?
When God’s time is fulfilled, he will bless the faithful, one more thing faith teaches the heart. He will come and save, and he will reward. He will reward us with answers, glimpses at how trial has perfected us, his presence and anointing, and anything more he has promised. Our knowledge of him will be deeper; his word will be more meaningful. And the result will not be due to our roots having deepened in God, but rather because we permitted faith to implant itself within us.