How do you react when you face various kinds of trials or difficulties in life? It probably depends somewhat on what the trial is or even on how we are feeling at the time and whether or not we have recently gone through other trials. Under good circumstances we can handle lots of problems or challenges effectively and not have them slow us down in our service to God at all. Strangely, at other times when we are just beginning to pull out of some other, major problem it is much more difficult to react to trials in a positive way. But, it is what was said by James, the Lord’s brother and elder of the church in Jerusalem that is so difficult to grasp on this topic. In James 1:1 he identified himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then in verses 2 – 4, “Count it all joy, by brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
If there was ever a statement in Scripture that was counter-intuitive this is it. Think for a moment. What is your natural reaction in times of trials? What if you have several different kinds of trail all over a short period of time? We might react by complaining about it and saying, “Why me?” We might get on Facebook and tell the whole world what all is going wrong in our lives and plead with all the prayer warriors to get involved in praying for you in the trials. We might seek out a good Christian counselor to talk about what is going on and seek advise on how to deal with these trials in life. But, how many of us when the times of trial comes, first of all, “Count it all joy?” I doubt that is the first, second or third reaction that we most often have to trials in life. Often we go into shock at the very thought that a person who is devoted to God, as we are, would go through such times of trials.
One of the few times in the Bible we observe people having such a reaction is in The Book of Acts when persecution first started coming against the first century church. The church of Jerusalem was at the brunt of this early persecution. The first instances took place when Peter and John came down to the temple at the hour of prayer and found a man laying at the gate begging for help. He had been coming to that same doors to beg for years and when he saw Peter and John he thought they would give him money. Peter told him that they didn’t have any silver or gold but in the name of Jesus he was to rise, take up his pallet and walk. Peter reached down to lift him up and the man began to leap and dance and praised God because he had been sick for a long time and had now been healed. He was joyful because his status as an invalid had changed. He was ready to lay aside the pallet and to walk, dance and run as the new commitment to the Lord. Now the religious leaders didn’t have the same kind of reaction as him. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for trial. Peter tried to explain to them that as this great work for God had been done, that the Lord had worked to please him and heal the man and give him new life. He later explained to them that it was God who made him lay his hands on the man and heal him and give him new life in him. Peter and John were beaten and warned not to preach or teach any more in that name, knowing that it would be seen as a crime against the state. After they had beaten Peter and John they released them and then went out to find the brethren and explained how God had counted them worthy to suffer for him. He led them in praise that they had been counted worthy to suffer in the name of Jesus and pleaded with him to learn to pray for God to give them all boldness to preach in this same city the good news of Jesus. They rejoiced believing in God and trusting that he would do what he had promised if they were faithful to him.
So, the command James gave us on how to handle difficult trials that we face stand out as different from what everyone felt we should do. Why does God have James to tell us that the way we should handle trying times is to rejoice? It isn’t that he wants us to be weird. It is because of the blessings that come from trials in our life. When everything is going easy and smooth we tend to feel that we are doing great and there is no need to change anything in our lives. In times of trials, troubles and stress we tend to look for what might be wrong in us and what we need to change. Notice he said, “Count it all joy…FOR you know that the testing of your faith, produces steadfastness.” Most of the things in life that are worth anything demand some effort to have the good result. For example, hard work may not be all that much fun but getting paid at the end of the week or month is fun. Imagine the amount of work that is required by the farmer or rancher to produce the food that we eat at each meal. It is hard work, but the reward is great. Everything in life that is worth anything requires a great amount of effort to produce the good. Marriage is one of the greatest blessings God ever gave to mankind. God was the one who declared it wasn’t good for a man to be alone. So he made the woman and brought her to the man as a “Helper suitable for him.” But, to have a great marriage that brings us wonderful blessings requires a tremendous amount of work. The person who thinks that it will simply fall into place and everyone live happily ever after has been reading too many romance novels and is out of touch with real life.
Trials should be counted as joy because it is the trials, the testing of our faith that produces steadfastness. Other translations of this verse have “Perseverance” or “Patience.” It is the ability to hold on, to stick to it when the going gets rough. Football season is upon us and I enjoy watching a great football game. But imagine the player that goes out to practice with the team. After the first week of practice he comes to the coach to say, “I quit. I thought this was supposed to be fun. It is nothing but sweat, work, learn, and correcting of mistakes. I’m tired of all the weight lifting and running. I just wanted to play and run the ball in front of the crowds. Why in the world would anyone go through all this to win a game?” Imagine the coach trying to explain to the boy that the joy comes if one hangs in there and endures the practices, getting better all the time. Imagine him saying unless you grow and get stronger you would get hurt in the game and you wouldn’t have the stamina to keep playing after the first quarter. Do you think the boy would be convinced? If he had been taught his whole life that everything should come easy to him then probably not. Great blessings always follow great effort and great endurance.
Trials + endurance = blessings from God. Steadfastness or perseverance won’t have its full effect until we continue to work, serve and grow through and in the midst of the difficult times. Then they produce the great benefit of our becoming perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Notice that it is the one who endures who becomes. The quitter doesn’t become anything but a quitter and a loser. We become the full grown, mature and complete person by endurance.
Notice that the next phrase in the letter of James is, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.” Too often this verse has been pulled from its context and used on wisdom of all sorts. The point was that the one who lacked the wisdom to see that blessings only come as we endure the trials of life should ask God for wisdom and he will give it to us. We only grow strong in life, physically or spiritually by work, endurance and continuing to do that which is a huge challenge for us to do.
So, when you go through great trials, count it all joy because the trials produce good things if we endure and hold on to the Lord through them all.