James: How Do We Find Joy in Our Struggles?
“Count it all joy when you encounter various trials…” James 1:2
The day had arrived. It was beyond sad. It was solemn, and it was heavy. Without hesitation we were there to support, to console, and to be present. In what seemed like a dream, we were getting ready to speak at the funeral of our dear friend who had just lost her battle to cancer. She had just rounded the corner past 25 years old, and was in every other way a healthy beautiful young lady. But, her life on this earth was over. She was surrounded by her husband who served her until she drew her last breath, she was nurtured and cared for by parents whose baby girl passed before their very eyes, and she was loved and admired by so many friends and family for not only the life she lived, but the strength exhibited in the way she died.
This dear friend was a Christian. She loved Jesus, and she served others. She wasn’t ostentatious, and she wasn’t callous or judgmental. She displayed dignity and compassion. Always quick to listen and slow to speak, she was endearing and she carried herself with class. You wanted to be around her, because she was characterized by joy. Her life exuded joy, and she displayed it until her Lord called her home. And it was into this untimely and tragic situation that her mom, whose name is Joy, has wisdom for us today.
When Joy–months after her daughter’s passing–had others praying for her to have a “better year”, she responds by saying, “A better year? You cannot give me a better year. This was the best year of my life.”
How can a mom–who stared down and continues to stare down the reality that her baby girl is gone–say that? This is almost too much to bear, but it is nevertheless the resolve of this mother when considering the loss of her daughter’s life on this earth.
1. “Joy” is a noun that is here preceded by the adjective “all”. Thus, implying an un-mixed or unsoiled-ness to experiencing joy. But, the word is also preceded by another word, consider. Which means to think. In other words, while this joy is certainly an unmixed experience of gratefulness, it is also something that you set your mind to. It’s a conscientious choice that–after the evaluation of your circumstances–you choose to live in this unmixed joy. Hence, Joy’s resolve for joy as she considers her daughter’s life and death.
2. “Trials” are not if, but when. The reality of our world–riddled with sin–is that we face trials of varying proportions and causes everyday. To prove this, James places the preceding word, various, before trials, which essential means manifold. In other words, the trials that are faced are not going to be the same. It’s as if we live in a world that has built-in and diverse challenges to face.
3. Thus, we are needy. We are vulnerable. And we are unable to do this alone. And so, it was into this manifold trial-filled world that God sent His Son. It was into this world that we have One who overcame sin and death, and therefore promises those who love Him that their death won’t be the final say about their life. No, no, Joy–the mother to the dear lady who passed–knows that her daughter may not be here in person, but she lives on in her (and many other minds), and that her daughter simply passed from life to life. Joy knows that she will be reunited with her daughter because of Christ; and so, she chooses–considers it all–joy.
Glory, because of Christ there can be joy. We can have true joy beyond, outside of, and above our circumstances. Glory.
What is the personal benefit to choosing joy amidst trials?
Ultimately, trials are an inevitability of what it means to live in a broken world made up of broken people. But God, in His wisdom allows trials to be the filter through which He cultivates joy in the life of His followers. Not merely for the sake of the struggle, but instead what the struggle produces.
Consider for a moment your own life. Consider the trials and struggles you have endured. Certainly, there are elements of the struggle(s) that you would eliminate, but can you nevertheless agree that it was through struggles that something good was produced in you or in those around you? Maybe you’ve said, “I’m glad I went through that, because it produced _____, but I sure wouldn’t want to endure it again.”? There are many things in my life I wouldn’t want to endure again, but I can say that those things certainly changed me–for the better.
And so, after James instructs followers of Christ to consider their struggles with joy, he then goes on to help us understand why they should do just that…
“…Knowing that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
In so many words, James reveals that the trials are a testing ground of faith. It is where the rubber meets the road. Life–for the Christian–is not about the milk toast, but instead about the struggles that test one’s faith for the production of something. That something that is produced–James says–is endurance.
The word endurance means literally to bear under. In other words, “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty” (BDAG, 1039). What James is instructing the follower of Christ is that the reason you should consider your various trials with joy is because the trials produce the ability to bear up in difficulties. In other words, it is through the trial that the strength is given to remain faithful.
How Does This Apply To Us Today?
1. It is through the trial(s) that God grows the faith of His followers–the stick-to-it-ness of His people.
2. Jesus endured to give us grace to endure. This grace is His free gift extended to a broken humanity to be received by us in faith. In other words, a follower of Christ is one who looks to Christ in the midst of his trials as the answer to their questions of “why me, why us, why now, etc.“. Christ’s endurance is not only an example to follow, but the means of grace through which to lay hold of and believe it is available to His followers even today. “The grace of God has appeared…” Titus 2:11.
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