According to researchers of Christians’ buying habits, the Bible books of John and James are the most chosen for study in small groups. So when the leader of my group said we’d be looking at James this fall, I was surprised only that we hadn’t considered it sooner.
Christians appreciate the book for its practicality. We’ve all seen (or led) lessons or sermons from James titled “Faith in Action,” and action is what we like.
Rejoice in your trials (1:2).
Show what you believe by how you live (2:18).
Be careful how you talk (3:9, 10).
Submit to God. Resist the devil (4:7).
Confess your sins to each other. Pray for each other (5:16).
As I compile this list, I begin to ask myself why this little book has been so popular. Yes, it’s certainly easy to understand, but just as difficult to obey.
How often, for example, have I actually confessed my sins to someone else? How regularly does my talk get me in trouble? How obvious is my Christian faith to my non Christian neighbors? And if my comfortable life is interrupted by something even resembling a trial, how quick am I to complain about it?
It’s this point, the first item on the list, that may be most difficult for American Christians. I remember Rod Huron’s comment years ago, when he was traveling into communist Eastern Europe to encourage Christians there. “Some Americans teach that coming to Christ will solve all your problems,” he said. “But those living behind the Iron Curtain know that becoming a Christian will only make their lives harder.”
Christians in Eastern Europe are not facing such trials now. But in communist China, persecution of believers is a fact of daily life. Earlier this year Gene Edwards Veith, in World magazine, cited an interview with a leader of the Chinese house church movement. The American reporter asked how American Christians should pray for the church in China.
“Stop praying for persecution to end,” the man said. “It is through persecution that the church has grown.” And then, according to James Draper, Veith’s source for the report, the Chinese church leader said something even more surprising: “We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.”
Too often the American church has defined success as acceptance demonstrated by prominence, affluence, or popularity. Through history and around the world, many Christians have discovered that something more difficult may lead to greater growth both spiritually and numerically.
How will we react to their experience, combined with the truth of James’s teaching? When we “face trials of many kinds,” will we “consider it pure joy”?
This is at least a part of what the church in China is praying for.