Perseverance: Pick your Zombies - James 1:1-8


James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 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. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:1, 2, 4-8 NIV)

Fighting the feeling

Upon first reading this passage can come off pretty hard to hear. 

It can sound like James is saying saying. "Hey folks - sorry to drop this bomb on you but life sucks some times - but learn to love it" 

If you aren't aware of where James is coming from, or who he is or what he as gone through - you could read this like has become some form of spiritual self help guru - 

"Don't worry we know it's difficult, but there is a way you can not get down about it - just follow these 7 steps, buy my book and DVD series and sign up for our retreat this summer and you could have perfectly happy wisdom filled life too" 

The placebo effect was first noticed back in the early 1700s but wasn't really understood at any depth until around 1970 - and even to this day there are conflicting reports and opinions about it's validity - but the general thesis is that the human body has a way of in certain circumstances, and within certain people - to trick itself into healing by applying some kind of false mechanism.

It has been witnessed in things as obscure as fake acupunture where the needles don't actually penetrate the skin, through to people being put under general anastetic only to undergo a fake procedure and be woken up again feeling completely healed - through to the old classic sugar pills given to control groups when testing new drugs.

People - some times unknowingly, and many times fully conscious of the fact they are swallowing the sweet IDEA that things are going to get better.

Many critics of the Christian faith would have us believe that we too as those who follow Jesus have swallowed the mother of all sugar pills. But I don't think that is what James is peddling here.

This verse however is hard to take Christian or not - because in truth none of us really like to acknowledge pain, suffering or hard times if we don't have to. But I want to assert to you that a true understanding of what James is talking about here is the key difference between Christianity being a living breathing faith and some form of glorified self help.

So is James being delusional? Does he wan't us to just suck it up and delight in our suffering? Does he think it will be just that easy?

Unlikely. Despite the fact scholars cannot quite agree on which James of the Bible is actually writing this book, the best guesses are that this is indeed the James - brother of Jesus - James who is speaking to us through this letter. 

The same James who, whilst the other disciples headed off to plant churches, stayed in Jerusalem to see the foundation of the early church right there at Ground Zero in the three decades following the death and miraclous resurrection of his brother.

Tough act to follow for any little brother.

As such it's unlikely that this James had a flippant attitude to human suffering or persecution. Having seen just what the Romans did to his very brother he is perfectly positioned to hammer home this point to us - he himself was a product of perseverance, patiece and learned wisdom.

In which case he isn't expecting us to just be able to jump into celebrating when the car breaks down or when we lose our jobs. Which is why he goes straight to talking about our need to persevere.

Don't be surprised by struggle

"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Have you been sucked into the Zombie phenomena of the past few years?

Zombies tend to come in two strict fashions, etiher a) Slow and staggering a la George A Romero Dawn of the Dead style, Shaun of the Dead etc or b) your more fast paced World War Z / I Am Legend style zombie.

Which ever your taste in the walking undead you find pretty much all zombie movies or tv programmes follow the same central narrrative, a band of survivors attempt to find their way to safety led by some kind of archetypal alpha male with an assortment of weaponary fashioned from household objects.

The thing however that seperates the good from the bad movies in my opinion is those who just try to survive versus those who persevere.

"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Survival and perseverance are entirely different things. Survival is all about purely making it through to the other side. To keep life living. Perseverance however is far more productive than that, it's not about just holing up somewhere and waiting for the army to stereotypically barge in. Perseverance is about rounding out, about polishing off the bits of our personality that are dry or underdeveloped. Perseverance exfoliates our character to as James says - make us mature and complete. It's not just surviving. It's thriving even though we are hard pressed.

Thriving so that the end product may be a people who are so anchored in faith by the spirit that no matter the tossing of the waves we are held firm in him.