We find in James chapter 1 instruction for all Christians everywhere somewhat strange to comprehend and follow: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials of many kinds…..” At first when I read the verse I wondered how I can possibly have joy in the midst of trouble, pain, sorrow, frustration, disappointments, heartache, and continued absence of answered prayers. The list of troubles goes on and on as long as there is life here on earth. People say that once you stop drinking everything else will fall in its place like a puzzle picture. However, it does not work that way automatically you still face troubles and hardships. No one is exempted from trouble in this life. But the question is how James could come up with this idea of having “joy” when faced with various trials/troubles. I know some people when they face sudden trials, they choose to quit because they are scared. They remain doubtful with insecurity whether God will protect them and lead them through trouble or not. Other people when faced with troubles respond with anger. They are angry at people, situation and even God. They scream, curse and yell even blaming finger to God. Some may choose to pretend that nothing is happened and keep quiet by suppressing everything inside. It is very rare that people are joyful when encountering trials and troubles in their lives. People have written many books on this topic of hardship and suffering in this world: books like Where is God when it Hurts and Disappointment with God by well-known Christian writer Philip Yancey trying to find joy and comprehend the meaning of faith in the midst of suffering and trials. We find in the Old Testament, faithful and righteous believer like Job and his friends were surprised and shocked when suffering came their way. There is no one like Job who suffered so much even as being so innocent and faithful. With all that loss and continuous pain and suffering every night and day his wife in utter frustration suggested him to “curse God and die”. Job himself had many questions and confusions; in chapter 3 alone we find five times he asks “Why”. Yet Job remains faithful to say “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him” and said “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised”. I can only come to this understanding that Job had an incredible quality of faith that he did not doubt in the Sovereignty of God. Job had no idea during his painful suffering that he would get in double all that he had lost but still had faith in God. Job did not expect that he would be blessed with more prosperity and blessings after the ordeal of his suffering; he just simply continued to believe in God Almighty as the only redeemer. I wonder how many Christians respond this way when they have to lose their jobs, house, family, source of income and still remain faithful to God. Also found in other Old Testament records the good prophets who saw suffering and pain occurring to good people whereas the bad people were flourishing with prosperity and wealth. Yet we see David in his confusion conclude that “I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God then I understood their final destiny”. ”But as for me, it is good to be near God.” With unwavering faith in God and hope for unseen, Habakkuk, a man of a deeply tender nature and spiritual character concludes that “though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Habakkuk had such a faith in God to see that the “Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. Jeremiah also known as the ‘weeping Prophet’ was a trusting and faithful man of God who says “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord whose confidence is in him” also records a promise of God relevant even today to bring comfort to hurting Christians, that “God has a marvelous plans for His people, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give hope and a future.” Ancient Joseph never complained and doubted God when faced with various trials and torture although he never dreamt that one day he would become a ruler. When the Hebrews were defeated in the war and they felt left alone and cried “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” It is very frustrating and painful to face the silence of God, when the prayers are not answered. However, Isaiah records God responding in special times like this: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget I will not forget you. See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” These are some of the assurances for our faith in God to have joy even in trials. Therefore, in the New Testament James undoubtedly gives this instruction that a child of God and the follower of Jesus Christ ought to have a different attitude in response to difficulties, trials, afflictions and troubles: “Consider it pure joy” when hard times come and to greet them with joy. Still it sounds like a mystery to most of us.
However, despite all the truths found in the Bible about this mystery, we still think that joy do not go together with trials or trouble at the same time. World’s view is different that says that joy comes only by avoiding trials and not when encountering it and Christians are not different in having this view. It seems hard to find joy when nothing is working as it should. We think we cannot be joyful or rejoicing when we find our numerous prayers and requests to God going just over our head and not getting any answers. Normal human attitude is to have a life without trials, however as a child of God we need to have a God’s perspective to face the trials in order to bring joy in its midst. According to Galatians 5, Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit which can be produced only when our lives are filled with the Spirit of God. It is not like happiness based on the emotions which alters when environment changes. Happiness is basically based on the things which are physically happening. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness comes and goes so fast that we don’t even remember sometimes. On the contrary real joy is from God, and its source has no end. Joy is produced when the inner self is transformed and filled with the Spirit. It is the Spiritual work against the carnal attitude. As believers, when we have the constant presence of the Holy Spirit we are promised His joy. Jesus promised in John “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” It is the choice we ought to make to choose joy over anger, frustration, and bitterness every day when we face trials.
Paul also says in Thessalonian Christians “Be joyful always…..Give thanks in all circumstances”, it is giving thanks to God in every situation of life whether it is full of uncertainty or prosperity. It is hard to imagine how Paul and Silas could sing songs while they were in jail in Philippi. Surely it must have been praise songs and not sorrowful blues. Again how could Paul say about himself that “Now I rejoice in what I suffered for you.” It is only possible when you have the inner self transformed and filled with the Holy Spirit constantly claiming God’s gift of lasting real joy.
The ultimate example was set by our Lord Jesus Christ himself as Hebrew reflects: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For Jesus, cross and joy went together, shame and joy went together, trials and joy went together.
James goes on to explain why we need to consider it pure joy when faced with trials. He says because testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Remember the fruit of the Spirit and the Perseverance is another one besides Joy. We are commanded in the Bible to persevere in humility to submit to do divine will in our lives. God wants to bring this change in you and me by sanctifying us every day until we are mature and complete lacking nothing. As Christians, if we start panicking and confused running after other people and help when we face trials and troubles then we are no different than those who do not know Christ. Trials and troubles are required in our lives in order to make us strong in faith and mature in Spirit filled life. It builds up the character to be more like Christ which brings joy. This is another step in the process of sanctification and it takes efforts and it is not easy.
James goes on to say “blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians that “no temptation (trouble) has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. In Romans he says “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?” “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Peter says “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” John says “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” David sings in Psalm “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”