Trials Are Gardens for Lies

How Thankfulness Guards Us Against Satan

What verses do you reach for most often when you pause to give thanks to God?

Maybe you’re bowing over a home-cooked meal after an especially long and frustrating day. Maybe God came through in a moment of more acute desperation or need — at the office, with the kids, over the family budget. Maybe you and your friends got to do that thing you love to do together (but rarely get the chance to anymore). Maybe you simply felt the warmth of the sun on your skin after a week of overcast skies. And you know that meal, that friend, that sun is from God, and so you want to thank him. What verses come to mind?

One comes to mind for me, one I’ve leaned on countless times in prayer:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

It’s a heart-warming, soul-stirring perspective: Every good thing you have, you have from God. In just a few words, James pulls every conceivable blessing — from the smallest snacks or shortest conversations to the weightier gifts of children, churches, homes, and health — all under the brilliant umbrella of the Father’s love.

Recently, though, as I slowly read through James again, I stumbled over the familiar verse because of the verse immediately before it. What would you expect to read before such an immense statement of God’s lavish generosity? Probably not this:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above . . . (James 1:16–17)

Don’t Be Deceived?

What could be deceiving about a cherished truth like this? To understand the deception at work among these good and perfect gifts (and the real power of the verse), we have to follow the thread back to the previous paragraph.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

The apostle James writes to a suffering people, a people bearing heavy trials. He begins his letter, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). He says that because some were tempted to grumble and despair. They wanted to give up. They also started pointing fingers at God. As James writes in verses 13–14,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

While God stands over all that transpires, and sovereignly works all things for the good of those who love him, no one can ever say that temptations come from him. He never devises evil. He’s not trying to make you stumble, but holding out his hand to keep you upright.

No, temptations arise from our own desires, which gets to a second problem James addresses in his letter: the problem of worldliness. Christians were growing faint under painful opposition. They were also giving in to sinful, fleshly desires (James 4:1–3). They were seeking comfort and relief in indulgence. They had formed an adulterous friendship with the world (James 4:4). So, James says to the church,

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above . . . (James 1:16–17)

What might suffering people hear in such a warning? How might this kind of wide-eyed thankfulness guard us against the lies we’re tempted to believe in the midst of trials?

To the Lies of Indulgence

First, to those tempted to seek comfort and relief in sinful desires, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” How does God’s immeasurable generosity weaken worldliness? How does wide-eyed gratitude take the edge off of deceitful desires? God is the giver of every good we might sinfully crave.

When we see the hand of God behind everything we might idolize, we remember why every good and perfect gift exists in the first place: to help us see, taste, touch, smell, and hear the glory of God. The goodness of our world is rooted in the God-ness of our world. Nothing is good when it is ripped from his purposes and turned against its Maker — when a gift of God becomes a rival to him. “What do you have that you did not receive?” the apostle Paul asks. “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every pleasure we’re tempted to chase or demand is designed to lead us to see God, thank God, and enjoy God.

When we see he’s the giver, we remember again why we have anything we have. We also remember just how small and fleeting every other pleasure is compared with him. Jeremiah Burroughs writes, “A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God” (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 43). Our sinful, worldly desires are attempts to fill a God-sized canyon with crayons and animal crackers. We remember not only that he gives every good thing, but that he himself is better and more fulfilling than every good thing, even the very best things.

So don’t be deceived when temptation comes. Your sinful cravings will not soothe or satisfy apart from Christ. In fact, they’ll kill you if you let them: “Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). That means good gifts can be deadly ones if they don’t draw us nearer to the good and greater Treasure.

To the Lies of Despair

Second, then, to those groaning under trials, tempted to doubt or even grow bitter against God, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” This God doesn’t give bad gifts. Again, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). No, if he has made you his own, everything he gives you or allows you to experience will ultimately be good for you.

Not only that, trials are opportunities to feel the goodness of all we’ve been given. He’s not only the giver of everything we might have or crave; he’s also the giver of every good thing we lose or fear to lose — a first home, a beloved pet, a dream job, a decades-long friendship, a clean bill of health, a precious spouse, a faithful church. God gave you whatever this trial has taken from you. Even the pain is its own reminder of his kindness and generosity.

And he’s still, even in the loss, giving you more than you deserve — “life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). James says in the very next verse, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). As troubled and discouraged as you may feel in these painful circumstances, through faith, you are a new creation. God raised you from the dead and opened your eyes to see, in Christ, what you could never see on your own.

This gift of new, eternal life is why Paul can say of any suffering, even what you’re suffering now, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Not only will these fleeting trials soon give way to glory, but they’re actually preparing glory for you — and you for that glory.

Could Losses Be Gifts?

If we can begin to see our trials through the eyes of these promises, even the losses themselves hold their own gift. James says earlier in the same chapter,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

How can someone possibly count the sting and heartache of trials as joy? When the trials produce something more valuable than they took away. And is anything more valuable to you than the steadfastness of your faith in Jesus? Wouldn’t you pay any price to know that you’ll make it to glory and live in his presence — without pain, without frustration, without sin, and with him?

So, when your trials and temptations come, don’t let Satan and his schemes have your ear. Don’t assume that God’s sovereignty over all things means that temptation is from him. Rather, in your suffering, remember that he’s a good and perfect Father. He’s the giver of every good thing you might lose, and he’s the giver of every comfort or pleasure you might crave. And better than any of his other gifts, he holds out himself, the gift that surpasses every other one.