The apostle James counseled the saints of his day, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4). And the apostle Peter gave similar advise when he wrote, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter1:6,7).

It is a normal cycle of life for each of us to go through times that seem good and through times that may seem bad or unpleasant. And it is just as natural for us to rejoice when things are going well and to complain or murmur when things are not going as well as we would like. However, the scriptures tell us that even when times are bad we need to rejoice. While this may seem like a strange thing to say, James explains that bad times are good for us because they provide a way for our faith to be tested, and it's in being tested that it becomes stronger than it otherwise would be.

However, just because our faith is tested doesn't mean we will always pass the test. There is always the possibility that trials will cause our faith to falter and be lost rather than strengthened and increase. That is why James adds that we must learn to be patience when hard times come upon us. Complaining weakens our faith while being patient and looking for the good in every situation helps increase it. The purpose of trials is to teach us patience, not only with God but in all things and in all situations. And it is in this way that our faith becomes "perfect and entire, nothing wanting."

While hard times are never pleasant or fun, Peter adds that the trying of our faith is "much more precious than gold." Who wouldn't rejoice at receiving gold? But to obtain pure gold, it must first be put in a furnace where it is subjected to extreme heat in order to purge away the baser elements. It is only after that process has been completed that we obtain pure gold. Peter says that is how we should look at the trials of our faith. We should take joy in the fact that our faith is being put in the furnace of adversity because that is the process by which we become pure and holy. And it is when we have been refined and purified that we are then prepared to live with a perfect and holy God and will receive "praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."

However, adversity is a relative concept. During times of plenty, someone may complain about not having a good enough paying job that will allow them to live in the kind of home they want but during times of high unemployment having any kind of a job, no matter how small the salary, can seem like a real blessing. During times of good health, having a bad cold may seem unpleasant to endure but to someone who is on a life support system, every day they are alive seems like a gift from God. Thus, it is how we choose to look at our troubles that determines whether we take joy in them or not.

Fortunately, most of us living in the free world today don't really know what true hardships are, including our poor, when compared to what our forefathers had to endure. To illustrate this point, in the late 1500's the Church of England and the government of England were one and the same. As such, all of their laws were based on their religious beliefs and anyone who didn't follow those laws were subject to extreme penalties. For example, parents who dared to believe differently than what the Church of England taught could have their children taken from them under the excuse that they were endangering their spiritual welfare by teaching them false doctrine.

There was one particular group of people who believed that the Church of England had strayed from the pure teachings of the Bible and tried to reform the church from within but when the Church refused to listen to them, some felt that the only way they could follow what they believed the Bible taught was to separate themselves from the Church of England and form their own church organization. They called themselves Separatists but others mockingly called them Puritans. However, the Church of England didn't allow for any dissent against its rule so they sought to brutally stamp out this heresy before it could take hold.

Because of this, the Separatists had to meet in secret. Yet, in their meetings they gave thanks to God for His protective hand over them as they continued to not only practice their religion but were able to gain new converts. But as time went on the Church of England became more and more relentless in their efforts to destroy this new faith.

After much prayer and discussion a small group of Puritans decided that it was best to move to the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands where they felt they could practice their religious beliefs more freely. However, getting out of England was not an easy task but, in 1608, they were able to safely make the journey, for which they gave much praise to God, thanking Him for His blessings upon them.

Yet, a year later this group found they were still being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Although it wasn't as bad as it had been in England, it nevertheless made life very difficult for them. Then they heard that Holland had no laws respecting religion, meaning that all religious faiths could openly practice their beliefs without any condemnation. This news seemed like an answer from God to their prayers so, with thankful hearts, in 1609 these Puritans moved to the city of Lyden in Holland.

For the first time in their existence they could finally worship openly without fear of being arrested and tortured and in all their meetings they praised God for His goodness towards them. But, while their physical life was no longer in danger, there were other dangers that surrounded them. As immigrants, they were considered as lower class citizens and because of this they had trouble finding work. Those that would hire them paid low wages which left the Puritans living a life of poverty but they nonetheless praised God for His goodness and mercy towards them.

But poverty wasn't their worst fear. Because all religious beliefs were allowed to be practiced, the Puritans soon found that their children were being exposed to strange doctrines that were not in keeping with the pure teachings of Christ, as they understood it. In time they found that their children were beginning to follow the ways of their non-Puritan friends. To them, this meant their souls would be lost forever. And to add to their problems, they weren't having any success in converting others to their faith. They further realized that unless they could reverse both of these situations, their small community of believers would eventually die on its own.

What they thought was going to be their religious paradise was becoming a spiritual nightmare and it became apparent that in order for them to survive as a church the only solution was to move to a place where they could practice their beliefs without any interference. As they prayerfully discussed where they should go, they finally decided that they should relocate to America.

However, they had no money to pay someone to sail them there. But that was the least of their problems because at that time America was mostly a wilderness. Although there were some English settlements in the southern area (most notably Jamestown) the Puritans felt those people were too closely aligned with the Church of England and might subject them to persecution. Therefore they looked for another part of America to settle.

At this time America covered an area from what we today call South Carolina all the way up to the northern part of Maine. However, the government of England divided it into two parts when it granted two companies the right to do business there. The land from South Carolina up to the Hudson River came to be known as Virginia and was operated by a London firm who went by the name of The Virginia Company. The land northward, from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine, which came to be known as New England, was overseen by a firm from Bristol who went by the name of The Plymouth Company.

The Virginia Company has successfully established some colonies in the southern part of their land but, while the Plymouth Company had tried to do the same in New England, all of their efforts ended in failure. Perhaps because of this, the Puritans sent a letter to the Virginia Company asking permission to settle on their land and after some negotiations, it was agreed that they would be allowed to establish a settlement near the Hudson River in what we now call upstate New York. This was very close to the boundary owned by the Plymouth Company but was far enough away from other English settlers that the Puritans felt they could live their religion in peace, without interference from others. In exchange for living on the land, the Puritans agreed to work for the Virginia Company for a period of seven years.

When the agreement was reached, the Puritans praised God for His mercy in providing them a way out of their problems. Then, by pooling their money, they were able to hire a ship called the Speedwell to take thirty-two of them to America. The ship left the Netherlands on July 22, 1620 and arrived at Southampton, England on July 29 where they met up with another group of Separatists who had hired a ship called the Mayflower. It was their intention to use both ships for their journey. In total, there were now 102 passengers who were going to take a pilgrimage to the place God had prepared for them to worship Him. As such, this group of travelers became know as the Pilgrims.

However, on the voyage from the Netherlands to England the Speedwell had started leaking so, instead of immediately sailing on to America, the group had to wait a week while the Speedwell underwent repairs. With no place else to go, most of the Pilgrims stayed on the Mayflower during this time.

Finally, on August 5, the two ships set sail for America and as they did the Pilgrims praised God for all of His goodness towards them. However, after they had been out to sea for three days, the Speedwell began leaking again and both ships turned around and headed back for England.

It wasn't until August 21st that they were able to set sail for America once more to a chorus of praise and song to God but they had not gone three hundred miles when the Speedwell began leaking water again. Although discouraged, they did the only thing they could which was to return to England. After surveying the damage and estimating both the time and cost it would take to repair the Speedwell, it was decided that all 102 passengers would get on board the Mayflower and sail to America together. On September 6, the Mayflower left England and sailed towards the open sea and once more the Pilgrims praised God.

The Mayflower was 80 feet long from stem to stern, 24 feet wide from port to port and had three decks. The top deck was where the crew worked and the bottom deck was where the cargo was stored. The passengers were confined to living in the middle deck. However, the last 15 feet of this deck was the gun room and was off limits to the passengers. Therefore, the 102 men, women, and children only had 65 feet of living space from the stem to the stern of the ship. But the main mast came through this area and there were three openings that led down to the deck below. In addition to this, there was a shallop, or large row boat, that was stored there, all of which limited their available living space. With so many people in so little room, this made their cramped conditions very uncomfortable. Worse yet, for a people who prided themselves on moral purity, there was no privacy to perform such basics things as changing clothes, bathing, or relieving themselves.

Yet, despite these inconveniences, for the first thirty days the seas were calm and the voyage was relatively easy to bear, but half way across the Atlantic the Mayflower began to encounter severe weather and the ship violently bobbed and swayed as it was battered by winds and waves. Huddled inside the middle deck, the Pilgrims could do nothing else but hold onto one another and endure the rough ride. Soon, people became sea sick and began vomiting but there was no way to clean away the fowl material.

It seemed that no sooner had one storm passed than another one took its place. For the next thirty days the Mayflower endured one storm after another. One in particular lasted four days and was so bad that they had to take down the sails to keep them from being ripped apart, which then left the ship to drift wherever the storm blew it. It wasn't until they had been out at sea for 66 days that land was finally sighted on November 9, 1620. By this time, those Pilgrims who had come from the Netherlands had been living on a ship for over three and a half months. Yet, with joyful, grateful hearts, they sang hymns of praise to God for bringing them safely to their new home.

However, the captain of the ship informed his passengers that they were far north of their intended destination. Instead of being in Virginia territory, they were in New England where their charter did not allow them to settle. Therefore, he announced that they would sail south until they came to the Hudson River. Although somewhat disappointed the Pilgrims were nonetheless glad to know they had made it to America safely and that their journey was nearly over. But their joy was short lived because they ran into another storm that was so violent that it nearly caused the ship to wreck. In an attempt to save his ship and the lives of his passengers, the captain ordered the vessel to turn around and head back to where they had first spotted land. There they were able to safely anchor the Mayflower in a bay called Cape Cod.

Because of the storms, the voyage had taken longer than expected and food supplies were beginning to get low. To add to their troubles, by now the daytime temperature was starting to be below freezing. Whether they had the authority to settle on this land or not, it became imperative for them to find a place to live before the winter weather became unbearable. Yet they also knew this was the land where the Plymouth Company had unsuccessfully tried many times to establish a colony. Undaunted by past failures, they put their trust in God and went out in search of a place to build their homes.

On one of their forays into the wilderness the search party came upon large mounds of dirt which, they discovered, contained corn that was buried within them. Feeling this was a gift from God to help ease their food shortage, they gathered up what they could but, in reality, this was grain that the Indians had buried for the purpose of planting in the Spring. When the Indians realized someone had stolen their future crops, they chased after the intruders but the Pilgrims managed to make it safely back to their ship. That night the Pilgrims thanked God for providing for their needs.

During another foray into the wilderness the search party encountered a heavy snow storm and nearly became lost. Finally, they came upon an place that seemed to have once been inhabited by Indians but appeared to be abandoned. After surveying the area, they determined that this was where they would settle. Before long they set about cutting down trees, hoping to make enough houses for them to stay in during the winter. However, by now it was late-December/early January and the weather was so bad that they were forced to spend most of their time on the ship.

Again, the Pilgrims rejoiced over God's goodness to them, but what none of them knew at that time was that the place they had picked to live was devoid of Indians because a contagious sickness had killed most of them a year earlier. Without realizing it, the men from the Mayflower who worked clearing the land came down with the illness themselves and brought it to the rest of those on board the Mayflower.

As the Pilgrims huddled together in the cramped quarters of the middle deck trying to stay warm during the fridged winter days of 1620-1621, one by one each of them began to get sick. Soon nearly all them were coughing and shaking from the cold and a fever. At one point only five people were not bedridden and were the only ones able to tend to the rest of the sick. And, as the sickness got worse, one by one they started dying. By March only about 50 of the 120 passengers had survived the winter. Yet despite all of this, those who remained alive praised God for His goodness as they were finally able to leave the ship and settle onto their own land.

Most of us haven't had to endure even one of the many difficulties that the Pilgrims were forced to suffer yet no matter what happened they never lost their faith in God nor did they stop giving thanks to Him. Rather than murmur and complain about their circumstances they trusted in the Lord and relied on His goodness to get them through their difficulties.

When we are faced with problems they can sometimes seem overwhelming and there is the tendency for us to wonder why God is doing this to us. At times like this it is good to remember what others have gone through. By doing so, it helps us put things in perspective and understand that things are not as bad as we sometimes imagine. This is a lesson we can learn from the Pilgrims.

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