Do you like to garden? Do you like to spend time in your yard helping things grow? What kinds of things do you grow? Fruits, vegetables, flowers, or do you just enjoy landscaping? I’ll admit I have no gardening experience. I don’t really like being outside unless it’s on a beach. When I was younger and my mom would ask me to help in the yard, I would tell her, “I don’t like dirt.”
For those of you who garden or work in the yard, have you ever poured time and energy into something that didn’t grow? How did that make you feel? You probably spent time on your hands and knees carefully caring for your plants, and then something came along and ruined it; weather, animals, or no growth for no reason.
My family used to make salsa every year, so my mom and aunt often grow gardens for the ingredients (tomatoes, peppers, cilantro). I remember one year there was a tomato blight, and most of their tomatoes were ruined which was extremely frustrating. All those hours planting and working, all for nothing. They didn’t do anything wrong. They planted the garden, worked like they were supposed to, and there was nothing to show for it.
Have you ever felt this way when it comes to your spiritual life? I know I have. You do what you’re supposed to. You pray, spend time with God, help at church, you’re kind, and every other thing that you know you’re supposed to be doing, but you don’t “feel” any different. You don’t “feel” closer to God even though you’re obedient. It doesn’t seem like you’re growing at all no matter what you do. If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you know that you cannot rely on your feelings. Our lives are so much deeper than that and often feel like rollercoasters, but we just have to keep going.
James 1:2-4 says, “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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
According to these verses, it’s pretty evident that trials and the testing of our faith is inevitable, but it’s how we respond and what comes out of these trials. Joy. Perseverance. Maturity. Completeness. He never says it will be easy, but he does promise that the end result will be good! Even if we can’t “feel” that God is doing something in our lives, we need to know that He does keep his promises and will help us grow and keep us strong.
We did make salsa the year of the tomato blight. Maybe not as much as usual, but we were able to continue our tradition. Our normal tomato crop wasn’t as great as normal, but other people did have tomatoes, and some were willing to give them to us! And there were some for sale at area farmer’s markets! Yes, it was frustrating at first, but we just needed to reach out and God provided for us. The end result: we were thankful for that salsa and the people who gave us tomatoes!
As you reflect on this passage, take a few moments to answer the following questions. What trials are you going through right now? Can you see how God can use those to help you grow closer to Him? Has He put others in your path to help you out? No matter what, keep growing!
"But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law." James 2:9
Sometimes, people can be so mean. They say awful things about you to others, to your face, and just make life difficult. It can wear you out. It can wear you down until all you want to do is just yell right back at them with some smart comment that will put them in their place. But, yelling at mean, or meeting them at their level, will not make you feel any better. God tells us that being kind only to certain people is sin. We need to have consistent kindness. How you are treated is irrelevant.
Trust me, this is easier said than done! Maybe when a non-Christian says something rude or mean, it's easier to remind ourselves to be a good witness. This topic could be an entirely different blog. But, it's a little more difficult when it's a Christian brother or sister. When someone who is supposed to be supporting you and uplifting you, announces to everyone around that you are doing a terrible job, or passive-aggressively tells others things that undermine all of your efforts, the last thing you want to do is be kind. But, you must. You must be kind. You must forgive over and over and over.
During some conversations, being kind takes all of your willpower and energy. It takes every ounce of you to be strong and not retaliate. However, other times, you might be in such shock that you stand there with a nervous smile plastered on your face while someone spits insults at you. This is usually me. Still other times, you might get a tiny bit of strength and clarity of thought, and you could ask that person to pray for you. This is usually a good way to transition out of the conversation and find safety. Whatever your response, you must be kind.
Why do I emphasize consisted kindness? Yes, God commands it of us, but also, you never know what will happen. That person who gossiped about you or yelled at you, might come up to you one day with a smile on their face and encouragement on their tongue. You will be pleasantly surprised, and you will be extremely glad you never were unkind. They may never apologize or even realize how awful they treated you, but you kept yourself accountable. You were kind. You were strong. You were obedient.
Do you have some people in your life that are just completely mean to you whenever they see you? Do you know of someone who regularly gossips about you? Pray for them right now. Ask God to help you forgive and be strong. Pray for your next encounter with them. Pray that no matter what they say, no matter how bad it hurts, you will be kind. I'm praying for you!