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. —James 1:2-3
My first thought upon reading these verses is that steadfastness had better be worth it. Be joyful in the midst of your pain, because it will give way to steadfastness? Really?
In order to understand what James is doing, let’s put three definitions underneath all of this. “Joy” is not glib, naive happiness. The Bible refers to joy as contentment in Christ above all else. “Steadfastness” carries similar connotations. It means to be confidently rooted in Christ; in other words, it means that all of our confidence comes from belonging to him, not depending on our own effort or resources. “Faith” is believing that the promises of God that we cannot yet see or feel as reality will someday come true, because he said so.
Now, we can rephrase what James is telling us, and ask how it is possible to live out these words. He is saying, “Seek to be happy in Christ above anything else, and you will find that, even in trials, He will prove Himself and make His promises real to you again.” By implication, then, it will be worth it. All of it will be worth it.
I have personally wrestled with these things. I was born with a spinal defect called Spina Bifida, which took away my ability to walk a few years ago. Amidst approximately 20 surgeries and daily inconveniences, the question of “Why?” has arisen in my heart more than once. What’s the point, the end of all this? Ultimately, the answer has always come back, “Jesus is the point.” I am constantly reminded of how he has worked, of all the people I would have never met, and opportunities I would have never had if I hadn’t been given a disability. But this is not some inspirational story about a human being. This is a miraculous story about God.
See, the idea that “joy is a choice” is an incomplete truth. I can choose joy in having Spina Bifida, and you can choose joy in your trial, only if God gives our hearts joy. Joy is not simply one in a buffet of virtues, from which we can take at random as we feel the urge. It’s not a light switch we can simply flip on in our minds. This is where faith and steadfastness come in.
If God does the miracle of changing our hearts, and if He gives us the gift of faith, we will have the eyes to see where all of our pain is going. To know that whatever suffering we endure really is working for our good. To see that Jesus shows Himself to us more profoundly in our trials, and that this changes everything. To place our confidence in Him; really believing it doesn’t matter if everything is perfect here, because this world is not our home. Our hope is not in the things of this world. James goes on to write that the one without faith will be “like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Only if God causes our hearts to remain steadfast will we be able to rest joyfully even when our world is caving in. Only if He does all of these things in our hearts can we “choose joy” in our suffering.
Conclusion? Oh, suffering saint, you must pray. I must pray. We must pray together for eyes of faith, hearts of steadfastness. We must seek God in our trials, asking Him for the faith to know He is in the fire with us, and the joy to believe that this is enough. In the end, brothers and sisters, we will see our Savior with unveiled faces. We will know, then, that it was worth it. That He is worth it.
What is it about trials that makes it so much more difficult to trust in the promises of God? How can you practically preach specific promises to yourself in your trials?
How have you seen Christ more clearly in your pain? How has your pain brought you closer to Him? This is a gift of God.
How can you use your suffering as a platform for ministry, that is, to reach out to others through your trying circumstances?