Sickness, loneliness, trouble at work, struggles in marriage, financial pressure, wayward children, car accidents, overlooked for promotion, slandered, mocked, imprisoned, persecuted. Who wants a piece of that… any of it? And yet James writes in the Bible:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… (James 1:2)
What was he thinking?! And he doesn’t simply say, look on the bright side, cheer up, things will get better. He says to consider it pure joy (or all joy) whenever you face trials. And he doesn’t restrict the range of trials. I take it this covers pretty much the full spectrum of nasty things that could happen to you. How do you adopt such a view of life? And is this any different to the power of positive thinking?
Perhaps we need to consider the meaning of joy. The temptation is to equate joy with happiness or a bubbly personality or a permanent smile. But joy runs deeper than an emotional response. It has to do with contentment and trust and confidence. In James’ words he calls us to a thinking response more than an emotional response. He’s not telling us how to feel about the trials we’re experiencing, he’s telling us how to think about our circumstances, to consider it pure joy when we face various trials. But why?
…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:3)
The experience of facing trials puts our faith to the test. It shows up what’s real and not real. Theoretical faith is no faith at all. Genuine faith is shown by it’s action, it’s fruit, the changes it produces. And the real test is perseverance, keeping on when things are tough, and finishing the race.
Sadly, I know a number of people who have claimed to have faith in God, who’ve claimed to be Christian, who have said most of the right things… but when pain and difficulties and trials have come along their faith has proved wanting. Perhaps they were presented with a false picture of God – one where he’d remove anything undesirable – and it didn’t stand up to their experience. Maybe they hadn’t really come to the point of trusting God at all. When life is good, when we’re healthy, wealthy and happy, it’s easy to think we’re in control and not bother trusting in God.
Trials of various kinds give us the opportunity to live out our faith, to demonstrate a faith that works. I would never have planned it this way, but my experiences with cancer over the past year have given me many reasons to examine my faith and look again to God. Will I trust God with what I do not like? Can I be contented and joyful in the midst of painful chemotherapy? Can I count it as pure joy to have an ‘incurable’ lung cancer? Please note, I’m not saying that the cancer is a good thing. God is sovereign over all, but he teaches me that cancer, disease and death is part of this cursed world that he will ultimately restore. I don’t go looking for trials, but they will come and the question is how I respond when they do.
I’ve had a number of people say to me that they’ve been observing my faith more closely since I’ve got sick. They’ve heard me preach and teach and counsel people over the years, but now they are watching how I respond personally? Is my faith really real? Does it stand up? Will I persevere or turn away? My prayer is that I will persevere as my faith is tested and consider it pure joy when I face these and other trials, because of what God is doing through them.
One of my problems is that I’m so short sighted. All I can see is the immediate trial. Right now, it’s the effects of chemo: the headaches and nausea and rashes and fatigue. Another time it’s the struggle of a difficult relationship, or the criticism of others, or my disappointment in myself. God is calling me to get the bigger picture, to grasp his perspective. James continues…
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)
The God who reveals himself in the Bible doesn’t promise health and prosperity… in this life. He doesn’t say that he will remove all our suffering and take away all our pain… in this life. But we can be confident that God is at work in all situations. He is growing our faith muscles against the resistance of trials and difficulties. He is strengthening us to persevere through the trials, that we might become mature and complete in him.
Do I always have this perspective? Sadly, no. Sometimes the end is hard to see behind all the hurt and the pain. And at these times God promises to help.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
This is a wonderful promise. When we’re blinded to the truth of God at work in our lives, we should ask God for wisdom to see things more clearly, to see things through his eyes. And he promises to give generously. God knows it’s hard, he knows it hurts, he knows we’re weak, and he doesn’t find fault. He gives us the wisdom needed to be able to count it pure joy.
When I was younger I remember singing the song, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. It’s a great song, but I think this second verse means more to me now than it did back then…
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
And so I will pray…
Please give me the wisdom to see things your way.
Please help me to look beyond my current circumstances,
to be reminded that you are working within me,
to strengthen my faith,
to enable me to persevere,
and grow into maturity.
I ask that you will help me consider it pure joy as I face my trials.