Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. (James 1:2)Joy? Joy in my trials? Who likes to have a trial, let alone rejoice in it?
James does not say, "endure the trials," or "look for the silver lining in your trials." He says "Count it all joy." He also doesn't say "Find it joyful when the trial is over." No; it's when we meet those trials. John MacArthur, in his commentary on James reminds us that it is to be genuine joy:
We are not just to act joyful, in reluctant pretense, but to be genuinely joyful. It is a matter of the will, not of feelings, and should be the conscious determined commitment of every faithful believer.Notice that he says it is a matter of will, not emotion. We may not feel like we want to rejoice but the verb rendered "count" is an imperative; a command. This is something we must seek to obey.
We don't always react with rejoicing. Often, our first reaction is grumbling; we may react with anger, or blame others. We ask "Why me," when we should be thinking "Why not me?" Negative reactions are not rejoicing.
The trials are "various." They can be financial difficulties, family problems, job issues, or other relational issues. It can mean serious illness, or it can mean persecution for your faith. We live in a fallen world; struggle and trials are part of this world.
There is a reason for trials:
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:3)What does it mean to be steadfast? It means to be patiently enduring. It is a permanent condition which increases with each trial we face. Steadfastnesses means we don't give into despair, or reject God. We press on. And if we have a moment of uncertainty and stumble a bit, we pick ourselves up and keep going. The only way out of a trial is through it.
James reminds us that steadfastness has lasting effects:
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4)Trials push us to confront our weakness apart from Christ, and our total dependence on Him. It is in this recognized weakness that we are truly strong (2 Cor. 12:10). As we depend on Christ we are made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Trials often leave scars, but those scars are beautiful because they have drawn us closer to Christ. They become part of our character, and they bring about changes that help us with each subsequent trial that comes along. Our confidence, our joy, comes from knowing that if we belong to Christ, whatever chaos or pain the trial brings, nothing can take us out of His hand (John 10:29).
If we are having trouble rejoicing in trials, perhaps it is because we don't understand God's character. God is good, and all of his dealings with us flow from His nature. Everything He gives is good, including trials. If you are having a trial, and you don't understand, delve into the riches of God's character and you will begin to see that God does nothing that isn't entirely for our good and His glory.
If you are interested, these books which deal with suffering come highly recommended:
Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrows, Nancy Guthrie
Be Still, My Soul, Nancy Guthrie, Ed.
From Fear to Faith, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Faith on Trial, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper
If there are any resources you have found helpful during times of trial and suffering, feel free to share in the comments.