At the time of this writing, we are in the middle of a crisis in our nation. COVID-19 has reached our shores and our community, and it has affected us with more than just sickness. Food and resource shortages, financial concerns, job security, isolation and loneliness… the list goes on. Peace, hope, and joy are in short supply during times like these, but God’s Word gives us insight on how to rejoice:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” | James 1:2-3 (ESV)
James is writing to “my brothers,” that is, fellow believers in Christ. The occasion is various trials. In this case it doesn’t only refer to persecution or potential martyrdom, but a diverse set of hardships and afflictions that may befall a Christian. I think it is safe to say our current situation falls under various trials. To Christians who are experiencing various trials, James says, “Count it all joy.”
Of all the emotions you are feeling right now, joy is probably not one of them. Joy is not the natural reaction to suffering. Which is why James says ‘count’ or ‘consider’ it joy. It takes intention to do so. It requires a change in thinking. How can he say this? Let us first dismiss that James is calling us to simply be positive, or delude ourselves, or suddenly be optimistic against all reason. Trials are not good in themselves. Afflictions are evil. God, however, is so wise and so good and so powerful that he can even bring good out of them! Because of this, the Holy Spirit calls us to consider suffering as opportunities for joy because of what God is doing through them.
Trials and afflictions are God’s servants. He allows us to meet trials for a good purpose, so he can produce steadfastness. This is what God desires for us and from us. He tests our faith. He shakes us with unpleasant circumstances. He creates discomfort. And in so doing he produces a strong and lasting faith. Consider God’s priorities against your own. To God, steadfast faith is more valuable than your comfort. So valuable it is that he is willing to bring affliction into your life in order to produce it. No doubt, we should be valuing steadfast faith more if God puts such a priority on it!
If we understand that God works all things for the good of his called and beloved saints (Rom. 8:28), it is possible in the face of even severe trials to have joy. Whatever God’s purpose in afflicting the rest of the world, for his saints he means it for good. For more on this, I recommend a book called “All Things For Good” by Thomas Watson.
And so, consider that while God sets your world on fire, he is burning away the cords of attachment to the world. He removes earthly comforts that you would desire heavenly ones. He proves the uselessness of your idols so you will call upon the living God. He unveils your sense of worldly security, so you will seek him as your refuge. He is shaking you that he might settle you firmly in faith and joy. Do not despair at various trials. Rather rejoice that God is at work in you in the midst of them for your good.