As I’ve been teaching the book of James to a small group of women on Sunday afternoons, they’ve asked some good questions, and I thought you might like to “get in on” the discussion. I’m so grateful for the women who are digging into the Word with me. These questions surfaced from our focus on James 1:1–12 if you want to read that first for some context.
What does steadfast and faithful look like?
Steadfastness is the goal. Steadfastness is produced through our faith being tested and through suffering (James 1:3, Romans 5:3)—neither of which sound like much fun. But the appeal of steadfastness is the glory of reaching a place of victory. Steadfastness is a consistent and joyful endurance that is otherworldly, even supernatural, because it is not something we can produce. Steadfastness is only developed by the grace of God in the crucible of affliction.
Steadfastness is not an emotional “happiness” or optimistic outlook on dark days. It is not a “Pollyanna” cheerfulness produced from a “name it and claim it” theology or a self-induced positive attitude. Steadfastness is produced through a series of hard falls and failures—but failures followed by repentance and crying out for God’s grace; asking for His help. Steadfastness is the goal. We obtain steadfastness through a long trajectory of pressing on toward that goal, while slogging through seasons of doubt and questioning, but always returning to the source of Truth for help.
Pressing toward steadfastness will definitely include days of weariness, discouragement, self-disgust, doubt, with personal disappointment and embarrassment.
Yes, striving toward steadfastness will include moments, and possibly seasons of doubt—struggling with our view of God, fighting to find a resolution to the crisis of faith we might experience when the crushing blows we receive don’t make sense, when God seems distant and the cruelties of life feel greater than His care for us. But the believer will despair if he stays in that state. That is why James implores us to ask for wisdom; wisdom that is specifically designed for navigating a season of suffering (James 1:5).
If I grow weary does that mean that I’m not steadfast?
Does being “steadfast” mean never doubting in weariness?
Never questioning the accuracy of one’s understanding of God or His ways?
Never being in need of encouragement? No feebleness allowed? Only perfection?
James does not say that we won’t doubt, but he provides a compelling contrast between those who endure hardship, in faith, and those who experience the instability and tumultuous consequences of doubt. For the believer, there is usually a mixture of faith and doubt while navigating the rough waters of affliction (James 1:6–8). But the goal is steadfastness. With each test, we have the opportunity to press in to truth, to ask for, and choose, faith. We have the opportunity to trust God in greater ways than before. We have the opportunity to move closer to a consistent walk of steadfastness.
The Lord knows that we’ll struggle with doubt, that is why the Spirit inspired James to warn us that we need to “ask in faith” and we need God’s grace for that faith. We need His help. We cannot produce the wisdom or the faith to steadfastly endure trials. We need to ask Him for those things.
The weary believer definitely needs encouragement during seasons of trial. Definitely. I’ve been blessed, this past year and a half, by a friend who is younger than me, but her husband is experiencing a similar trial, and her texts, that are filled with Scripture or words of encouragement letting me know that they are praying for us, have been a true source of comfort. The unexpected gifts of groceries, gift cards, financial donations, and firewood on the porch have been an immeasurable blessing and tangible encouragement.
LeRoy and I have experienced the ministry of encouragement in our difficult season, but sadly, many in the church don’t see the need to personally encourage those who are drowning under what some might consider less “acceptable” struggles—like mental illness, suicidal thoughts, or recurring addictions.
Some want to avoid the hurting person entirely or approach the broken and needy with the cold message of “Just get it together!” Some preach a “just have faith” message, without compassion or understanding that the road of suffering is hard—no matter how spiritually mature you are, or how much you’re seeking to honor God in the trial. Suffering is hard. And some in the church apparently deny that, or haven’t experienced that kind of real suffering.
In this life, a believer never reaches the place that they no longer need comfort or encouragement.
The “perfection” of a flawless performance during trial is an unlikely and unrealistic expectation.
But the “perfection” of endurance/steadfastness that produces spiritual maturity is the goal. And along the way of reaching that goal will come failures. These failures are evidence that we need to ask for grace again, we need to ask for help, we need to acknowledge that “faith to endure” and “wisdom in trial”, are things that don’t come naturally.
Steadfastness can certainly involve reaching out for resources and help—and that might include counseling, or regular conversations with a more mature believer—and that is nothing to be ashamed of. The humble admission that you are in need, is evidence that you desire to continue pressing on in faithfulness—you don’t want to stay in your needy state. Reaching out for help, and having the body walk with the hurting, is the DNA of a healthy Church (Galatians 6:2). We are to bear one another’s burdens, and not look at a broken or needy sister in disgust with the message to “Just grow up!” Feebleness is allowed, even expected, when facing a brutal trial.
What’s the line between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, steadfastness and non steadfast?
I don’t think we have Scriptural evidence for a distinct and clear line that we can draw between faithfulness and unfaithfulness—unless that line would be rejecting God’s truth. But, even in seeking to know if there is a line, indicates your desire to know and understand God’s ways, rather than just all out rejecting Him. And the contrast between steadfastness and “non steadfastness” is not so much a line, but a process that will, at times, include both. If this year, I’m striving to “walk with endurance” and respond to this trial with steadfastness, but I’m not actually as faithful or consistent as I will be next year . . . does that mean that I’m not steadfast right now? Am I more steadfast now than I was at this time last year while walking through the same trial?
There will be bumps and falls along the way, but what is your trajectory? Are you continuing to cry out to God for help to walk faithfully . . . and steadfastly? That might be the “line” you’re talking about. The line of willingness to ask God for help, rather than trying to manage it on your own.
Is there even hope for one who is profoundly weary, re-evaluating her understanding of God and His ways, desperately in need of encouragement (all of which seems to be the antithesis of faithfulness/steadfast) to be deemed faithful?
There is hope. Oh, precious friend, yes—there is hope! The hope is found in viewing our suffering through the lens of the cross. The cross provides us with the perspective to endure, to develop steadfastness, to experience a fellowship with Christ that is only possible in trial.
Far too often, I’m guilty of presenting a simplistic picture of what it looks like to follow Christ or to walk by faith. I fear that, as I attempt to communicate the majestic truths of Scripture, there is no nuance or consideration of the enormous trials or difficulties that another woman may be facing. And she is left feeling hopeless and that she could never approach the life of faithfulness that Scripture presents. If that is you today, dear reader, know that He sees, He knows, and He cares. He sees your pain and struggle, He understands that you are weak and needy, He remembers that we are but flesh, and He cares for you.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12–13)