No question about it. The way James describes blessedness doesn’t fit the average American definition. Consider James 1:2-12.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 12 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 promotes a living faith – a faith that works (see James 2:26). Genuine faith manifests itself in a lifestyle of wise speaking and acting in all of life’s facets. These verses in chapter one address how faith works to persevere under trial. He gives four principles to guide the believer.
First, reckon your joy (2-4). Count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds. We are to calculate the immense value of trials such that we delight, not in their pain, but in the profit they yield. What profit? For you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. We are to let steadfastness have its full effect that we might become spiritually mature. That’s worth delighting in. God uses trials to grow us in the likeness of Jesus.
Second, request your wisdom (5-8). If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God. Who doesn’t lack wisdom? We all do, particularly when it comes to how to navigate a trial so that we make the most of the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness. So pray. Remember two things when you do. God loves to give wisdom (5b) and don’t doubt that fact for a second (6-8).
Third, release your wealth (9-11). Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation. One great source of trials in life comes in the form of money, either too little or too much of it. James levels the playing field for both ends of the spectrum by urging right thinking about wealth. If you are poor, exalt in your spiritual riches. If you are rich, remember it will all pass away. The focus needs to be on the spiritual, not the material. How important is that in these difficult economic times in which we live?
Fourth, relish your perseverance (12). That brings us back to his beatitude, Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. There is a present benefit to steadfastness in trial as we saw in vv. 2-4. But there is a future, eschatological one as well. Those who persevere receive a crown of life in heaven! It goes to those who love God. And those who love Him keep His commandments even when it proves costly. They never abandon their faith.
Oswald Chambers gave this counsel:
Believe steadfastly on Him and everything that challenges you will strengthen your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith up to the point of our physical death, which is the last great test. Faith is absolute trust in God— trust that could never imagine that He would forsake us.
And it is trust that often imagines how greatly He will reward us.
Take care that your pursuit of happiness is not conformed to the world but rather transformed by the renewing of your mind in passages like James 1:2-12.