Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy.  For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.
When I first became a Christian I held onto this verse. In fact it is probably the reason I read the rest of the book. It made my life make sense in some way. I put a premium on being strong and tough. It made a lot of sense for someone who described herself as coming from the ‘school of hard knocks.’ (Actually I don’t think I ever used that term out-loud. It was more of an internalized attitude.)
As I began to live out my life as a Christian and come across more ‘trouble’ I would encounter Christians who would throw out this passage rather than attempt to empathize. I could go into a long rant about why I think people shouldn't just quote Scripture in an answer to pain but that would detract from what I am trying to say. The point is that I stayed away from this verse for a long time. I have spoken on the topic of pain, I have walked with people going through pain, I gone through lots of pain, and I never pointed anyone including myself to these verses.
When I step back and look at the context it changes the way I look at this passage. The this letter was written very early after Jesus’ resurrection (in comparison to other letters in the Bible.) There was no formal established Church. Christians were scattered and probably marginalized. For those of Jewish background they would have lost a lot of friends and even family. Most interactions would be difficult. Not only would they fear for their safety but daily life would be very difficult. And if this book was actually only written 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection most of them knew a life before becoming Christians.
I can imagine if that was me I would wonder what the point of the daily drudgery of living this way was. Rather than the word ‘trouble’ another translation uses the word ‘trials.’ I started to wonder if James was talking more about the difficultly of living out life than specific dangers and crisis'. After the greeting this is the first thing he says. He is trying to reach Christians who are scattered and don’t have access to the resources we have today. The next thing James writes is this:
James 1:5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.
If I am in the middle of some trauma (say a car accident) I don’t ask for wisdom I ask for help. If someone important to me dies I ask for God to be near me, to bring me strength, to help me get through, not for wisdom. If I have just hurt myself or someone else is hurting me I would ask for God to rescue me. We don't need wisdom when something bad has already happened. Wisdom is a very practical day-to-day thing. We might ask for wisdom to know what to do when we are struggling with a physical problem but that is more of an issue of how to move forward.
The more I look into this and the more research I do I am convinced that James was not referring to specific ‘trouble’ but life in general when he talked about endurance. God is near to us in our pain. But we also learn a lot as we live out a life that is difficult. James did not say ‘if trouble comes’ he said when. We all have difficulty in our lives. It teaches us to endure. It makes us ready for anything.
These verses have much application for me today. I think about the stress at work. I think about living with chronic pain. I think about financial stress. All of these things teach me to endure.