What brings you joy?
Family? Friends? Work? A hobby? Nature? Take a minute to think about how you would answer this question.
James, the brother of Jesus, in writing to Christian Jews who were likely undergoing persecution and physical hardships, wrote a primer on living the Christian life. He began by instructing them in joy.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
I’m guessing trials, tribulations, and temptations (all words used in various translations of this verse) did not come up in your list of what brings you joy. Yet, there it is.
James is not saying we should find joy in the trials themselves but instead in what happens in us as a result of going through them. In fact this “count it” is an accounting term telling us to deliberately mark our troubles as joy. In other words, joy is a label we choose to give our trials. In doing so, we are choosing fact (God’s word) over our feelings.
James is also specifically talking about trials that we “fall into” through no fault of our own but that simply come our way from living life this side of heaven. These trials are those that might cause a Christian to withdraw from faith or start to waver. They’re also colorful, even motley.
At the same time, they’re opportunities for joy because they help mature our faith. They teach us endurance we would not develop otherwise.
Keep in mind, though, that they are also opportunities for depression, apathy, discouragement, and sin. In other words, they’re opportunities to grow or to or to go backwards, to draw closer to God or withdraw.
This growth begins with letting it happen because you know “the testing of your faith produces patience.” You know that going through trials, trouble, and tribulations strengthens your faith. It teaches steady persistence in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement.
This growth develops in us a holy confidence that only comes through experience. It comes when we refuse to give up or quit until this work is finished. It comes when we focus on the bigger picture. Such holy confidence comes from knowing you have all you need for what you’ll experience.
So, press on towards perfection. Strive for spiritual maturity, remembering that you won’t necessarily feel this way but you know God will equip and empower you through his Holy Spirit.
Becoming a Doer
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
In that growing, purpose to become a doer of the word. There are many verses that speak to achieving this habit, but we’ll stick to just James for this post.
- Ask for wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
- Check your expectations (James 1:6-7)
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8)
- Check your motives
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18)
“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4: 2-3)
- Keep praying.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 6:13-18)
- Focus on the goal.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
Progressing Toward Perfection
Allow your faith to increase and become steady, genuine, rugged, and uncompromising. Let God’s word trump how you feel and refuse to resist growth. Instead, choose to mark trials, trouble, and temptations as joy.
Refuse to be idle. Develop spiritual muscle and purge spiritual shortcomings by pushing through trials, temptations, and trouble with the help of the Holy Spirit. Embrace the process and purpose to have positive expectation, faith, trust, and joy no matter what is happening to or around you.
“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.” (James 2:1-4, J.B. Phillips translation)