In the 1960s, Howard Hughes bought more land than anyone else in the Las Vegas area, because he liked the idea that he could always get a sandwich no matter then time of day. Joan Didion, in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, connects this millionaire idiosyncrasy to the American (and especially Californian) character:
That we have made a hero of Howard Hughes tells us something interesting about ourselves, something only dimly remembered, tells us that the secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake… but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. It is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.
We all tend to think that leading an integrated, flourishing life means taking control of our own lives. James begins his letter by addressing exactly that. But his answer to how to be whole is completely different than our idea of it.
1. Take Control
James starts his letter by telling us what we should do in the midst of suffering. Our natural response is to take control, to either become the victor or play the victim. This tendency traces its roots back to Eden. James says that, when Christians try to take control of our lives, we are being “double-minded,” saying Jesus is King, but living like we are.
2. Joyful Surrender
Rather than take control of our lives in the midst of suffering, James calls Christians to joyful surrender. We can be joyful in trials because we know that King Jesus has our pain in his hands, for our ultimate good (Hebrews 1:3). And it’s in surrendering to his perfect will for our lives that we become like him: perfect, complete, whole. God takes us through suffering to show us we have nothing but him… and that he is all we need (Psalm 73:25-26).
Reflection and Discussion Questions
Read Romans 5:3-5. What similarities are there between this passage and James 1:1-8? What differences do you see?
Why should the biblical truth that God is in control of all things and that he is good lead us to rejoice in trials? Where do we see these two truths taught in Scripture?
What trials are you going through right now? Do you tend to take control by becoming a victor or a victim? Why?
How does a Christian’s desire for control make them “double-minded?” How did Jesus model wholeness in the way he joyfully surrendered to the Father?
Make a list of all the areas of your life that you try and exert control over. Confess this to God. What does it look like to give up control in one of these areas?
What is one trial in your life right now? Take 2 minutes each day this week to meditate on the truth that Christ holds that trial in his hands, and has allowed it in your life to perfect you. At the end of the week, did this make a difference? Share this with someone in your CG.