In the New Testament book of James there is a passage that might seem a little masochistic at first glance. James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” This passage is not telling us to enjoy pain and suffering in life, it is telling us to count it all joy or consider it joy when we face trials because of what God can do with the trial.
Stop and think back on your own life. When did you mature the most? When did you grow the most spiritually? Was it during times of smooth sailing, when everything seemed to be cruising along or was it during the storms and raging white water when you were going through a trial? For most people deep spiritual growth usually happens in times of difficulty.
Trials are the stuff God uses to slowly shape and transform us into the image of His Son Jesus. The phrase “trials of various kinds” is pretty broad. Trials can come from several different sources. They could come from the consequences of our own sin, from our being sinned against by someone or from just living in a fallen world with fallen people. Of course they can also come directly or indirectly from our enemy, Satan.
It some ways, it doesn’t matter what the source is for the trial. God is able to use any trial to grow our character and mature us. God can even take something “evil” someone did to us and use it for good. That is exactly what Joseph told his brothers in the Old Testament when they were feeling guilty about having sold him into slavery when he was young. Joseph told his brothers, “what you intended for evil, God intended for good; the saving of many lives.” It is not always apparent where the trial is coming from initially—but it is very hope-giving to know that whatever the source, God can use it for our good.
We also need to understand the definition of biblical joy. One of my favorite authors is deceased Catholic Priest, Henri Nouwen. He once wrote that joy is knowing you are unconditionally loved and that nothing can take that away. Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be in a situation where we are unhappy about many things—especially when undergoing trials, but joy can still be present in that situation, because joy comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. Nouwen writes, “We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad at the same time, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together.
Sometimes in the most painful times of our lives, we can find a spiritual reality that is larger than ourselves and allows us to live the pain with hope and even joy. Nouwen cautions us though, that nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. He says joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
Reflections: Can you think of a trial in your past that the Lord used shape your character? Try to come up with a trigger of some kind that can remind you each day to choose joy.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice