No matter how much I love coffee, my body (and mental state) would not respond well to me drinking it all day, so I’ve settled on an alternative “warm” drink for the winter months: herbal tea. I don’t want all the sugar found in juice or other drinks, and herbal tea has just enough flavor to keep my taste buds happy, while helping me stay hydrated.
My favorite tea mug as of late is my mason jar mug. There’s something about being able to see the vivid colors through the glass that makes my tea seem more refreshing and appealing. But I also love being able to watch the reaction that happens when the tea bag hits the water. Swirls of deep fuchsia, red, orange, or yellow come spilling through the tiny holes in the bag as the soluble parts of its ingredients dissolve. The molecules disperse and mix, and in just a few minutes, boring clear water changes into a flavor-infused cup of joy!
Hot water is a powerful thing. It creates all sorts of reactions. Not only can it brew tea, it can also dissolve old food off of a dish, cook an egg inside of its shell, kill bacteria to make water safe to drink, and burn our skin when we touch it.
How interesting is it that James opens his letter with these verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-4)
I don’t know about you, but my reaction to trials is anything but joy! Frustrating situations, stressful decisions, and pain-filled experiences definitely produce some things in me, but I’m not sure perseverance is one of them. The worst is when several things pile up to a boil. When my tea bag hits that hot water, some vivid colors spill out!
Yesterday, feeling motivated in my half-marathon training and wanting to break in my new shoes, I set out to run all three trail ‘peaks’ in Valley Forge Park. After summiting Mt. Misery (aptly named) and both sides of Mt. Joy (maybe not so aptly named), I worked my way down the last hill and was in the home stretch – all I had to do was cross the street.
This crossing happened to be at a busy intersection with a light, so I hit the “Push to Cross” button and waited patiently. No, not really. I stood there pounding the button repeatedly, hoping it would sense my full-body pain and exhaustion and let me cross sooner! The light finally turned red and I got ready for my turn. I watched for the orange hand to change to a little walking man, but no dice. The other light turned green.
After waiting through the next full light (and hitting the button at least 50 more times), that light finally turned red and I was ready to go. But no! The other side turned green again and no little walking man appeared! I turned my head, and as I pounded the button one final time, a four-letter word that hasn’t crossed my lips since a brief rebellious stage in high school came spilling out of my mouth.
Even though I’m sure no one heard me, I covered my mouth in horror! Where did that even come from?!?
Jesus loved the hot water. As a leader, He deliberately put His disciples in trying situations, not to discourage them, but to highlight their deficiencies. He put them in charge of hungry crowds and gave them no money to buy food, slept while they attempted to weather a violent storm, and sent them out with nothing but the clothes on their backs, not to show them that they could do it, but to prove to them that they couldn’t.
As Christians, it’s easy to fall into a comfortable level of “okay”. Because of Jesus, we’re not who we once were. The Holy Spirit has done His job in creating real change in our hearts and minds. We’ve grown in self-control and left behind the patterns of the old self.
And when trials come in small doses, one drop at a time, our reactions are manageable. But when we’re dropped into a mug full of boiling water, all the stuff comes spilling out!
When we read in James 1 that trials produce “perseverance,” we most often think of those trials teaching us skills or building up strength, but sometimes perseverance is simply the result of coming to terms with our weakness. When my inflated view of myself gets popped, I realize I haven’t arrived yet and I’m motivated to keep pressing on. I may think I’ve mastered something, but the hot water reminds me I’m just as dependent on grace now as I was the day I received Jesus into my life.
The beautiful swirls of weakness that spill out in my reactions to hot water are deliberate. They’re not meant to discourage me, but to give me a joyful taste of my need so I’ll press on to know Jesus and become “mature and complete” in Him. (v. 4)