Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.—James 1:2–4
“I never saw it coming,” we say. “This was so unexpected.” Even though we meet with suffering and trials on a fairly regular basis, they still manage to interject themselves at times and in ways we don’t foresee.
How many people do you know right now who are out of work, fighting cancer, mourning infertility, or burying a loved one? I don’t know how long the prayer list is at your church, but at mine it is long. We give thanks for many happy providences and answered prayers, but the continual remembrance of those suffering illness and trial still nags. It is a regular reminder that all is not right in this world. Things here are broken. Death has entered the world, breaking down our bodies; cursed thorns continue to grow up amidst our labor, tearing skin as we put our hand to the plow; and even joyful beginnings are ushered in by painful labor.
Blessed Are You
With such frequent observance of trials in the lives of the saints, it is a bit of a mystery why we are still taken aback when suffering shows up in our own lives. We have been told that this is part of the Christian life. When Jesus spoke of the blessed ones in the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke of those who mourn, those who are persecuted, those who suffer for His sake. That doesn’t sound like a life of comfort and ease. Being the finite creatures that we are, we don’t see or understand all that is. We have a restricted view of the panorama of God’s plans, and when we are in the valley of the shadow we may only see a scrap of sky clearing the cliffs.
Learning to Count it All Joy
If we do not keep our eyes trained on the lighted path, instead averting them to the dim and foggy perimeter, we may take to stumbling. These valleys shelter beasts of all sorts: Discouragement, Worry, Bitterness, Anger, Fear. Their silhouettes blend in with the craggy contours of our surroundings and their whispered invitations to make our home with them in the shadows seem natural to the place. We must not give in to their deceptive murmuring. The Lord has us now, as He ever did on our sunniest days. His Word lights our path, and sets the darkness to flight.
He has told us to count these times joy. We think, “Joy? Really? I’m just trying to get through it.” His purposes are greater than getting us through it. He is making us complete, lacking in nothing. He is giving us a glimpse of His panoramic plans, lifting our eyes to that scrap of sky in the valley. He is sanctifying us, transforming us, into blessed ones. He rests His blessing on the peacemakers and the mourners, the persecuted and the merciful, the gentle ones, and the pursuers of righteousness.
The arrival of His blessing is often the most surprising thing of all. Trials and pain enter our view, unwelcome and unlooked for, directing our path toward low ground, and down seems the only way to go. As we descend, picking our way through hardship, we find that it is the promises of God which light our way: to those hungry for righteousness He promises satisfaction; to mourners, comfort; to the persecuted, the kingdom; to the pure in heart, He promises the very sight of God. This is a most surprising result of these things which we are, “just trying to get through.” Our Comforter salves our wounds with His blessing, and raises our sight to behold Himself, His kingdom, and the reward which is in heaven.
God does not belittle our suffering. Indeed, we follow Jesus, the man of sorrows Himself, who is deeply acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Even when our vision is obscured by affliction, we can bear up and count our trials joy because our great joy is in Him, and He, who suffered for our sake, promises He is working all these things to make broken creatures complete, lacking in nothing.
Have you been learning to count it all joy? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.