How would you fill in the blank of this statement: Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you _______________? Perhaps you would insert something about your favorite sports team winning the championship or something about the birth of a child or grandchild. James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church tells us in this early Christian letter that we should count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds. If you've ever read through the book of James you'd know that this apostle probably would not have won the award for 'Most Sentimental Person' in the New Testament church. However, what James has to say to us is meant to shake us up a bit and get us thinking. James tells us that being joyful about positive things is too easy and goes right along with the way the world thinks. It is a deep and abiding joy that sees everything in life, even the hardest trials of Leukemia and a multitude of miscarriages, as being reasons to be joyful. Now James is not some twisted motivational speaker who is a masochist at heart; he intentionally shocks the church with the reality that God sovereignly orchestrates the events of our lives to make us more and more like Jesus and so give Him the glory that is rightly due Him.
Before you go dismissing the inspired and inerrant Word of God because it sounds ridiculous, hear James out. James says that the trials we meet (and notice it's a when, not an if) and whatever is included in the words 'various kinds', should be welcomed by believers with joy because of the steadfastness they can produce in us. Essentially then, James is telling us to rejoice in God's sovereign plan to grow us in our spiritual maturity even when it means bringing us through suffering, heartache, and pain. It's as though James is saying that God's people should look through their difficult life circumstances and see the handiwork of God to fill up in us what is lacking. Like a personal trainer who notices weaknesses in our diet or exercise, James points out the need for the body of Christ to live out their faith when trials come. It's not enough to say you love Jesus when the sun is shining and you've got great job security; what about when you've been out of work for two years and are getting tired of eating PBJ's every meal? Why must your faith be checked at the door then?
It's amazing that James puts a label on the trials we face as well. We call it terminal cancer or death, but James calls it 'the testing of your faith'. So then this apostle considers every difficulty we face as a faith test. Is God then some cosmic teacher who is bent on having a pop quiz every so often to see where our faith lies? Not quite. James, rather is saying that the trials we encounter are actually divinely ordained encounters whereby God brings us closer to the likeness of His Son Jesus. So if God is so concerned with making us more like Jesus through the difficulties of life, then that means we are going to endure these hardships until we are completely conformed to the image of His Son in Heaven. James is essentially pulling back the curtain on our chaos so that we can see the handiwork of God. As Keith and Kristyn Getty sing in their song "The Perfect Wisdom of Our God", "Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace, so through the trials I choose to say, 'Your perfect will in your perfect way'".
People may say it brings them comfort to know that everything bad in life is from the devil and everything good in life is from God, but I would beg to differ. How does a God who wrestles to control the universe bring any comfort to us in the midst of our pain? Did not God say in Isaiah 45:7, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord who does all these things"? It is utterly comforting to know that all my pain and sadness is all a part of His excellent plan to shine the brightness of His glory through my being conformed to Jesus. All of these things we face, James says, are "that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (1:4b).
Peter says it like this: "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
Paul says it like this: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).
So next time your jaw drops after hearing horrible news from a doctor or you can't hold back the tears when someone you dearly love is ushered into eternity and you have had some time to grieve, think about how God is going to use even this in your life to bring you closer to King Jesus.