Joy, Trial, and the Proof of Faith, or, It Really Is about How You Drive

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”  C. S. Lewis

This week we continue our First Things First series with Bill McDonald. Bill has a PhD in Old Testament and Hebrew (2005, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), and he is a Ruling Elder at Highlands. Bill is also a cancer survivor. He lives what he teaches. 

Joy, Trial, and the Proof of Faith, or, It Really is About How You Drive

There’s an expression in golf, “It’s not about how you drive but how you arrive.” That is, regardless of how you get there, the important thing is to make it to the green; because, that’s where the cup is. And, unless you make it to the cup, you have no chance of winning. As with any competition there’s an end goal; and, in order to win, you must finish the game and make it to that goal, typically in quicker and better fashion than everyone else. Even the Bible speaks of this concept:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win (1 Corinthians 9:24, NASB).

But notice that although Paul builds his analogy around the prize at the end of the race, his admonition actually concerns what happens before we get to the goal, when he says, “run in such a way.” The apostle James has a similar emphasis:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4, NASB).

Both these passages emphasize the process, the journey itself, more than the end goal. That’s because of a spiritual truth found throughout Scripture – Spiritual growth is a process, not an event.

The Christian life is just that . . . it is life; it is lifelong. This is the picture John Bunyan paints in Pilgrim’s Progress, where we see the main character, Christian, struggling through his lifelong journey and eventually crossing the final river to get to the Heavenly City. There is purpose in the journey. In fact, we might say that the purpose is the journey; because, it’s only in the journey that we experience the living that results in true growth and maturity.

If we skip the day-to-day living – the running, the pressing on through hardship – and seek short cuts to the end, then we miss the growth. We may wish to skip the process; but, if we do, we will be immature, incomplete, weak and shallow. This is the point James and Paul are trying to make. I’ve always liked the J.B. Phillips translation of James 1:2-4:

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends. Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you a quality of endurance. But let that process go on until it is fully developed, and you will find you have become men (and women) of mature character, with the right sort of independence.

So, sisters and brothers, be encouraged through the day to day circumstances of this life, whether financial uncertainty, political discord going into another election, or a fearful future with COVID-19. God will grant us wisdom for living. And by the way, I think that if Paul and James had been golfers, they would have agreed that in the Christian life, it really is about how you drive.