Problems, patience, and perseverance—what do these three things have in common? If you thought something along the lines of we all need patience to persevere through problems, you are right. Problems are a part of life, so must patience and perseverance be a part of a successful life.
Some problems are our own fault. Some are not. That’s why James tells believers in the New Testament to count it all joy when they fall into “divers temptations.” The word used here for temptations is translated as peirasmos and can mean problems that are our fault and those that aren’t.
Temptations, in the modern sense of the word, are our fault. The New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) defines temptation as “the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.” Later in chapter 1, James says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (verses 13-14). We are tempted by what we lust for.
God created us and knows that we have temptations. He always makes a way of escape, whether it’s the option to swipe off a screen on our phone or to not respond to juicy gossip directed our way. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” God never creates the temptation, but He always gives us a way of escape. His watchful eye never fails to see His children in need, and He responds more quickly and more powerful than any parent in nature. He won’t make our choices for us; otherwise, they wouldn’t be choices. But He always makes a way of escape for us that will never contradict His Word.
Temptations, or trials as we think of the modern use, are not necessarily our fault. The NOAD defines the noun trial as “a formal examination of evidence before a judge,” “a test of the performance, qualities, or suitability of someone or something, a person, thing,” or “situation that tests a person’s endurance or forbearance.” The NOAD defines the verb trial as “test (something, especially a new product) to assess its suitability or performance,” “(of a horse, dog, or other animal) compete in trials.” Trials seem to just be a part of life for everyone.
God promises to be with us to bring us safely out of every trial. “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by name, thou are mine. When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isaiah 43:1-2).
Regardless of whether the temptation, or trial, results from our own sinful lust or is an unwarranted attack by satan, all trials are training for battle. Just as soldiers train and condition for battle, we are to recognize situations we are in as training maneuvers to correct and fortify us, honing our skills. Though God is never the author of any trials or temptations we face, He is our High Commander who guides and teaches us to endure as we make life-preserving moves on the battlefield. Jesus promised believers in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
God offers us peace in Him we can accept or deny. We can follow His divine guidance or go with our unwise human nature. Our own thoughts and plans for ourselves can never measure up to His love for us (Psalm 40:5). Humans are stubborn creatures. We often have to experience struggles repeatedly before we learn to depend on God and honor Him with our choices. Even domestic animals seem to learn faster than some of us to avoid negative consequences.
Psychologist Edward L. Thorndike created a puzzle box as part of an experiment in 1898 to determine if animals really are intelligent. He placed a hungry cat inside the puzzle box and a juicy morsel outside, out of reach of the cat. In order to escape the box and get the morsel, the cat had to do a specific series of actions: pull a string to release one lock, step on a lever to release the second, and flip a latch upright so that the door would open.
The hungry cat responded by trying its natural strategies of squeezing through the bars, clawing at the door, and meowing for help. When these strategies failed to release him, the cat attempted dozens of actions, until by chance, he stumbled upon the right combination. The real test was to see if the cat would repeat the specific three-step maneuver again, only faster, to show that it learned something. Remarkably, the cat took almost three minutes the first time but always less than one minute every time after. (Psycohology for Teaching, Francois, 124-125)
What can we learn from this as Christians? Will we learn that our relationship with God is the only source for peace, joy, courage, wisdom, and strength to persevere in patience when we face trials? Some of us learn more quickly and easily than others. I relate to the stubborn Christians who learn slowly, as it took my losing everything but my life for me to truly understand my brokenness and dependence on Him.
Psychologist B.F. Skinner originated operant conditioning, where the consequences of a response determined the probability of it being repeated. Simply put, behaviors reinforced with rewards or relief from a negative situation would likely be repeated, and behaviors punished by presentation (physical) punishment or penalty (removal of something desired), would occur less frequently. (Psycohology for Teaching, Francois, 130-135)
I wish real life were as cut and dry as this experiment. In real life, sometimes we get ourselves (or keep ourselves) in the same sticky situation time after time. God often gives us the way out that we need but don’t want. We might be living it up in sin city when God throws us that lifeline. We want to linger in sin longer because we know there is pleasure in sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25). Otherwise, we creatures of comfort wouldn’t seek sin. Sometimes when we resist God’s grace and go our own way thinking we can get out later, God allows us to fall flat on our face, sometimes repeatedly, to learn our dependence on Him. Other times, He knows it’s best to prevent us by circumstances. When things aren’t going your way, or circumstances seem impossible to bear, seek God, ask Him to help you know His will, and acknowledge that you cannot follow without His wisdom and strength. He will not leave you hanging; He promises to guide the steps of those who diligently seek Him (Psalm 37:23, Proverbs 16:9, Job 36:5, Isaiah 48:17). Sometimes we have to learn through our circumstances, and sometimes we see things right away. As long as you seek God, you will be safe.