James starts his letter with one of the most illogical verses in the Bible: "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds". You what? When things are going wrong we surely have the right to be grumpy, to complain, to ask 'where is God?', and question everything.
Yet James says "Consider it pure joy". That is because of the fundamental truth about God - God is a loving God, God has plans and purposes for us, He wants us to grow and to be more of the person He intended us to be. Yet growth implies processes of learning, growing, deepening our relationship and faith, and these processes sometimes can be painful and hard.
Just as a gold ring started as traces of gold encrusted in rock, requiring harsh processes, high temperatures and chemicals to refine it, so sometimes we need to go through things to get us to the better state. James is clear: being faithful produces perseverance which works in us to be mature and complete. Just as in Exodus the whole people of God were learning, so we are on a journey too, towards maturity and completeness in Christ. Ephesians chapter 4 says much the same, with God's loving hand leading us together to be built up into the fullness of Christ. For this we need each other (for mutual support, praying for one another), and we need God's diverse gifting among us (seen in the capacities of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher).
God gives generously, and so in v5 James says if we need wisdom for a situation we should simply asks. God gives without finding fault - God will not reply and say 'I could give, but you have these issues ...'! No, God welcomes us, as He wants us to grow and develop, so He will give to enable that.
This enables us to have a quiet confidence in asking God, and we need not doubt. Note that not doubting does not mean projecting our answer onto God (thinking/praying 'it will happen like this ...'). Instead it is being confidently open to God working and seeing us through, even if we cannot see or know how He will do it. James is vivid on what not being confident looks like: someone blown by the wind and waves, bobbing here and there. In other words, swayed by arbitrary factors. He concludes in v8 quite harshly, asking 'do you believe or not?', because he wants people to stop meandering and instead quietly trust God's leading.
This will require us to put our faith into practice - and live out this trust in the real world (v22). That is why our messages at the Countess are backed by key questions and challenges - because the content of the message needs to be applied in the weeks ahead. Everyone is encouraged to be in a prayer partnership or triplet, where they can work things through with trusted close confidants. The small groups in the church have different emphases and reasons to meet, but each are also asked to apply the teaching, making a church-life connection.
James wants followers to be presented before Christ complete and mature. That will require building up, which may require some tough experiences and hardships. Yet God will be positively and actively at work through them, so when these come consider it pure joy to be part of God's workmanship! The end result is receiving the promised crown of life (v12). So this is not about putting on a plastic smile, but the inner knowing of being in His purposes.
As a church our vision is to see Kingdom Life across the city. This is about people and Kingdom, rather than being a church that has the most dazzly lights or super-duper sound system. For this Kingdom work we pray for Given Lives - people who can orient their life and priorities to what God is doing among us. These people will not flinch when things go wrong, when as a church we suffer setbacks. Instead they will be able to be illogical: knowing an inner joy that God is indeed at work in us.