I have gotten to know the book of James in a special way over the past two years. In my grade 11 English class, we studied it in depth and just as an aside before I get in to the main focus of this post, we can never exhaust our study of God’s word! There are gems to be mined and I was so encouraged that in teaching it for the second time this past year, there were still new things to learn.
One simple point I want to share from lessons in James is his teaching on trials. Trials are defined as troubles, or something that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy, and happiness in someone’s life. James tells his readers that we are to be joyful when we face trials. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”.
Joyful? Does James really expect us to rejoice when we suffer or go through some painful experience? That is not the natural human response. We would rather anything than be downcast or go through a difficult time. When I am suffering, my response is often not the one James calls for believers to have. In fact, I am usually depressed, disheartened, and anxious. So, how is it and why is it that he calls believers to be joyful? How can we obey this command to “count it all joy” (note the word all) and in doing so bring God the glory he deserves?
For one, as a Christian we need to use our minds and think, rather than be subject to our feelings and emotions. Our tendency is to look to our situation rather than at God and his character and mighty deeds. We can quickly forget who he is in light of our difficulties, and just like Peter who initially kept his eyes fixed on Jesus while walking on the water in the midst of a terrible storm, begin to look at the waves and sink under the pressure. God’s word is full of examples of his faithfulness to his people and his sovereign control over all things. We need to read his word and recall to mind WHO God is so that rather than believing that our situation is outside of his control, we can put ourselves in the right place and trust in him who sees all things and works them together for our good.
Why should we be joyful? Is it not easier to resign ourselves to anger or resent God for allowing us to go through pain? The interesting and thing James says about trials is that they are for the “testing of our faith”. Why does God allow our faith to be tested? A test determines what someone or something is really made of. Is it not easy to make a claim to something, yet without it being tested, have no proof of the truth? Someone might claim to be an excellent basketball player, NBA quality even, and until you place them in a game situation and see what they’re made of, there’s no way of proving the truth behind their assertions. The same goes for those who claim to be Christians. The book of James addresses the characteristics of genuine saving faith, and one of the tests he puts forth to determine whether or not someone is truly a believer is the test of trials and a person’s response to them. A trial has a unique way of weaning the true from the false. For a believer, the right response when faced with a difficulty will be to turn to God and seek his wisdom and guidance. A believer will rely on God’s strength and his promises through times of difficulty. A believer is someone who will not be put off or turn away from God and blame him or become resentful because of their trial. In the believer’s response to trials, God receives much glory because we are able to exhibit the truth that knowing God and having him is more to be treasured than peace and security in our circumstances. King David said in Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you”. Only those who truly know the joy of knowing God as “better than life” will be able to rejoice in their trials because he is more precious than all the false assurances of comfort and ease.
So ask yourself when you go through a trial, “What is my response to the difficulty God brings in my life? Do I turn to him or turn away?” A trial can reveal much about who you are. If you are a believer that is struggling to have a joyful response, read his word, remember who God is, and ask for wisdom because he will give it generously as James goes on to say in chapter 1. And for those who aren’t, King David’s words are still true regardless of what you believe. Knowing God is better than life itself, and I pray that you will come to see that true peace and joy that is lasting comes only from him.