Most of us wish life was always easy and we didn’t need to think about how to respond when it gets difficult. But life is not always easy, and so we do.
No matter how hard we may try, we simply can’t avoid getting hurt. Life is difficult. Fortunately it is difficult for a reason. God has a good purpose for the trials He brings into our lives. He wants us to help us become mature Christian and uses trials to promote our spiritual growth.
Unfortunately, trials are painful. If they weren’t painful, they wouldn’t be trials. Since trials are painful it’s easy to respond to them in a way that dishonors God and harms us.
The way we respond to the difficulties God brings into our life is very important. In fact, when it comes to our spiritual growth, there are few issues more important. If we respond correctly to the trials that come into our life, we will take steps towards spiritual maturity, but if we respond incorrectly we will take steps back.
That’s why in what is considered by many to be the most “practical” book of the New Testament, James begins by teaching us how to handle trials. He understands if we are going to be the people God wants us to be we need to know how He wants us to respond to the difficulties of life.
James is writing a group of believers whose lives were very hard. They were under fierce persecution. The Gentiles persecuted them for being Jews. And the Jews persecuted them for being Christians. The persecution they faced was so intense they had to flee their homes and families just to survive and ended living as poor refugees in foreign lands.
It’s difficult to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. But try to imagine what it must have been like for these believers.
How would you react if your family deserted you for following Christ? Your mother and father disowned you for your faith? You were physically beaten for being a Christian? You were forced out of your home and your possessions stolen? Your friends betrayed you? You had to flee to a foreign country just to escape persecution?
I’m sure you could imagine all sorts of different possible responses to those kinds of trials – few of them good. Yet James begins his letter by writing,
“Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials…”
That quite frankly, is a shocking thing to say. I mean, imagine pouring out your heart to a friend about the problems in your life. You are hurting and expect some sympathy. But instead, after you’ve finished complaining, he looks you right in the eye, and says, “Great. That’s fantastic. What you’ve told me is reason for nothing but joy, happiness, and thanksgiving!” “Say what? Did you hear me? Did you hear what I just said?”
That’s not how we’d expect our friend to respond to our complaints, and if he did, we’d probably complain some more. Yet that’s exactly the way James begins his letter to these suffering believers. He knows they are hurting, yet says straight up, “Whenever you encounter various trials, you are to consider those trials all joy.”
It’s easy to take what James is saying for granted because we’ve read this verse so many times before. Force yourself to think very carefully about exactly what he is telling us to do.
We are going to experience trials
He doesn’t say, “if you experience trials…” but “when you experience trials…” We are going to experience trials and this is how we are to react each and every time. We are to consider the trials we experience an occasion for joy – not after we have escaped from the trial – not even before we experience the trial – but when we encounter the trial.
We are to consider every trial a reason for joy
It’s easy to start thinking our trial is the exception. It’s not. Take special note of the word “various.” It literally means multi-colored. When James commands us to consider trials an occasion for all joy, he’s not just referring to certain kinds of trials, instead he’s talking about every single trial we could possible experience. Whenever we experience a trial, whatever trial we experience, consider it all joy.
We are to think of our trial as a reason for nothing but joy
Keep going. Underline the word all. Trials are not merely a reason for a little bit of joy. Trials are a reason for nothing but joy. We are to ‘Count ourselves supremely happy’ to ‘rejoice exceedingly,’ and ‘account it sheer joy,’ when we are suddenly and unexpectedly surrounded by all sorts of different difficulties.
How am I to respond when I am persecuted for my faith? Consider it all joy. How am I to respond when I get sick and am out for a few weeks? Consider it all joy. How am I to respond when I lose my job and am wondering about how I am to pay my bills? Consider it all joy.
If I don’t consider trials all joy, I sin. If you don’t, you sin.
That’s an incredible statement, isn’t it?
The command to consider trials all joy seems almost impossible to obey; yet Scripture repeatedly commands believers to respond to trials with an attitude of joy.
Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice even though now for a little while if necessary you are being distressed by various trials…” (1 Peter 1:6) Paul explains, “And not only this but we also exult in our tribulations…” (Romans 5:3) And Jesus says, “Blessed are you when man cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matthew 5:11,12)
Those passages are pretty convicting. But while those commands are convicting, at the same time those same commands are also hope inspiring. What God commands us to do, He enables us to accomplish. If God wants us to respond to trials with joy, and we are believers, we can respond to trials with joy. And if we can respond to trials with joy – that means:
We don’t have to be controlled by our circumstances. We can have joy in every circumstance of life.
That’s great news. That’s absolutely awesome news. All joy all the time. There’s nothing better than that.
Still I think I know how some might be tempted to respond.
“All joy? Simply not possible. You can’t reallyexpect me to rejoice in the midst of my trials. If you knew what I’ve been through, you’d know that joy is not an option.”
Tell that to the apostles.
In Acts 5:40 they’ve been scolded, beaten and flogged, (which was a severe punishment slightly below capital punishment) and yet how do they respond?
“… they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been worthy to suffer in His name.”
Tell that to Paul and Silas.
In Acts 16, they’re in prison at Philippi.
They’ve been beaten, treated unfairly, and put in a stinking dungeon at the bottom of the jail. And what are they doing? Crying and complaining? No, singing and rejoicing. (Acts 16:23-25)
Tell that to Paul.
In Philippians 1, he’s in a prison in Rome. People he loves and cares for are attacking him. Some are even preaching the gospel out of envy and selfish ambition, just to make him look bad. Yet, how does he respond? “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will
continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18)
If we are believers we can learn to respond to trials, even the worst of trials, with joy. In fact, if we are believers, we must. Joy is a command, not an option.