On Sunday night, in a Bible study with a group of 11-14 year olds, we considered these verses from the book of James:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:2-5)
It had already been quite a weekend: On Friday night I stood-in for a leader who was ill; Saturday began early with finishing off a talk for a lovely wedding that filled the rest of the day; another early morning on Sunday filling-in for my son on his paper round, before picking-up a friend, leading church, cooking lunch, entertaining and trying to prepare the Sunday evening Bible study in James. As the Bible study approached, I realised I had not thought as deeply about these verses as I wanted to, in order to really help the young people I passionately care about
After the study we talked about how we dream of life being like a TV reality show; of living where we want (it normally looks like California); wearing what we want (without limits of money), and where the story-line seems to be all about us and our wants and successes. From these verses it seems God has a very different agenda to our self-centred 'dream lives'.
And then it hit me…. the car door I mean. I was out on my bike on Monday morning. I have learnt that my mind and body are best served by exercise when I am in a busy period. It had been a good ride. I was feeling fit and ready for the triathlon coming in a week’s time - 3 more rides to go and bang - car door, pain and only a fuzzy recollection of events between 10am and 11am Monday morning.
I do remember a man’s voice, a woman in jogging bottoms and the two delightful paramedics. I remember reaching Kingston Hospital to find a good friend with a smiling face and the wonderful Joanna trying to hide the worry on her face (I am sure it is easier to be the patient than the loved one looking on). And I remember being sure I had a broken leg. Quite how I hobbled out of the hospital 6 hours later with just 2 stitches, heavy bruising and my clothes in pieces, I will never know.
Monday was dramatic, but then there was a mix of endorphines, morphine, adrenalin, and codeine in my system. I came down a bit on Tuesday, but I think today will be the harder as the reality of limited movement and a little more of the seriousness of what nearly happened, hits home and the drama of the moment recedes. What do I do to process what happened? Why is this James' passage stuck in my head when I can’t sleep due to the discomfort on both sides of my body?
I am glad James wrote about ‘trials’. In his context, many of the churches were facing life threatening persecution. We are gloriously spared this in our time and our location on earth. Our trials tend to come in the form of physical pain or emotional struggle caused by sickness that is part of a fallen creation, things we do by our own folly, sometimes people’s wickedness or accidents that no-one intended.
Trying to find the reason ‘why’ something bad has happened is tempting, but often, we will never know. Had I not taken the slip road to avoid the lights in Esher, I would not be up at 5:30am writing this. James doesn't try to analyse the past, instead he gives us hope by telling us what God is doing in the present and what He will complete in the future.
He tells us to consider trials as joy, because of what God is doing in us through them. Trials test our faith and produce perseverance. I desperately need perseverance. I am all too often ready to quit. The comfort and ease I live in, is staggering and I rarely see it. Nothing like a near death experience to remind me that I should be more thankful for 'normal' life. James wants more than this though. Do you see, he says that trials test our faith? How has this event tested my faith? As I reflect on that, I suspect there is a momentary answer and one that needs to be taken a lot more slowly.
In the immediate, this accident has taught me about living ‘light’ in life. When you go cycling, you take as little as you possibly can. I had a water bottle, set of keys, a mobile phone and a spare inner tube. We take little to be light. This accident stripped me of even that.
When I was picked up from the road and put in the ambulance they cut my clothes off me. I went from traveling light to travelling really light! They discharged me and I had nothing, just the gown I was in and my mobile phone. I literally was naked, but alive and thankful. If my trust is in God, he should be enough. I am taking a long time to learn that lesson, but I think this incident taught me that to stand in hospital with nothing was to stand like Jesus did for most of his life - borrowed clothes and an open hand. I am not good at that, but with his grace, through trials, I am looking to learn.
The longer term lesson is probably harder and I am only just starting to consider it. Cycling is a great gift but can become a harsh master of me. I was aware there are dangers in cycling, but for me, the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages. I think I was getting dependent on my cycling ‘fix’ and this accident is a not-so-gentle reminder that God is my rock and not cycling. The very thing I am in danger of depending on is actually dangerous. Christ - the very thing (person) I should depend on - is altogether lovely and always seeks my absolute best. I have much more to learn, but sometimes, having things stripped away is where we learn the most.
So is it ‘pure joy’? Honestly, it hurts. Honestly, I am very aware that a scrape on a bike is nothing compared to what many in the world are suffering for their faith, and many in the world, not least in our local church, are going through in other trials. Honestly, I am thankful for the care I have received - the emergency services were outstanding - members of the public who had never met me, cared for me like I was a member of their family. There are many small mercies in this incident that I am really thankful for.
Do trials bring joy? Not on their own. For pure joy, I need to let this trial fix my eyes more clearly on Jesus. James tells me how to do that in verse 5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach."