“Count it all joy, my 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 perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)
James is a timely book for today. If you care about how to respond to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, you’ll want to read James. If you need wisdom about how to use your words wisely on social media, read chapter 3. James is practical too for those who face trials, troubles, and tribulations. In fact, in his first words after the greeting, James fires off his letter with a surprising command for suffering saints: he tells suffering saints to count their trials as opportunities for joy.
This might seem like insensitive counsel from a young, zealous pastor. But James knows that trials lead to testing which produces steadfastness which works in us for our maturity and spiritual wholeness.
Many of us, however, find great joy when our trials are over. James reminds us to find joy in our trials. Life is full of occasions for joy. Engagements are occasions for joy. Weddings are occasions for joy. Births are occasions for joy. You know this. But is sickness an occasion for joy? Are strained relationships occasions for joy? What about loneliness or loss? What about poverty and persecution? All trials are opportunities for joy.
This is not new theology, James is simply repeating his older brother. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matt. 5:11–12). Jesus even guaranteed tribulations. “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So why is this idea so strange to many of us?
There is a false gospel–a prosperity gospel–that has been exported from the United States and made its way to my city in the United Arab Emirates. The message of James has been distorted from, “Christians should count their trials as joy,” to “Christians should have no trials and only joy.” Could it be that we’ve been sipping on some of this poison? How do we know? One question to ask is, how do you respond when trials meet you?
Perhaps you feel fear, wondering what will happen to you. Maybe you experience anger, questioning how this could happen to you. Some feel envy, asking why their trials don’t happen to others. You probably feel a mix of emotions. James is not saying that your exclusive experience should be joy, but that part of your experience should be great joy. James is not only talking about a joy that’s independent of circumstances, he’s saying one circumstance to have joy in is trials. One evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life is your joy in trials.
When Jesus Christ met trials he not only endured them, he counted them joy! He is the one, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Trials are a special time in the life of a believer where God himself causes us to remember that he is at work in our sorrow and suffering to make us more like Jesus Christ.
You are probably facing trials, troubles, or tribulations right now. If not now, you need to expect them. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Christian life is not an easy path, but it is the path that leads to life (Matt. 7:13–14). So remember that God is working in you through trials, and count your trials as opportunities for joy.