Understanding the Bad Things
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 in nothing.
We all experience trial. James would not say “when you meet trials” if it was something only some people have to go through. The other important point about trials to catch here is that they are “of various kinds.” This tells me that we all face different hardships, but that does not elevate the severity of one person’s hardship over another’s. James tells us to “count it all joy” when we meet any trial. He does not limit our ability to see the joy in just some of our trials.
As I was meditating on this verse in light of my life, my mind zoomed through the things I would call trials. I have suffered from the loss of financial security, been deeply betrayed, mourned the loss of a baby through miscarriage, watched our newborn son struggle to breathe on a ventilator, cried out to God to save the life of our daughter after a horrible accident and struggled with those I love in their difficult relationships, addictions and the lack of desire to live.
When I put the weight of all of these things in one run-on sentence it can seem pretty depressing and at times it certainly has been. It is not a simple thing to see a greater joy in our trials. And not everyone’s faith matures in steadfastness as a result of trial. That is why studying the rest of these verses matters so much.
There is something called “root cause analysis.” It is a tool that uses a series of “why?” questions (much like my 3 year old) to determine the cause-and-effect relationship of a problem, leading to its solution.
In this case, we are not getting to the root of a problem, but rather seeking to understand how a problem can be rooted in joy… glass half full, right? Let’s try it!
James: “Count it all joy, Erin, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Erin: “Why count it joy?”
James: “Because, Erin, trials test your faith.”
Erin: “Why does that matter?”
James: “Because, Erin, testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Erin: “Why do I need steadfastness?”
James: “Because, Erin, when steadfastness takes its full effect you will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing!”
(Try inserting your name where I put mine. This is written to all of us and it helps to make the truth of these verses more real to our individual lives.)
testing of your faith…
I believe nothing tests our faith the way that trial does. You don’t really know if you are submitting to God’s authority over your whole life until it gets hard to do. Often our response to trial attempts to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, but with a big side of selfishness… “Why God are you doing this to me?” This is why steadfastness matters.
Steadfastness (also “perseverance” or “to remain under”) is walking in faith that God is at work in your trial despite the difficulty. I heard it compared to a person lifting up heavy weights. The result of the hard work in lifting weights over the course of time is strength. In the same regard, as we persevere through trials God matures our perspective and our spiritual strength increases.
lacking in nothing...
I have a friend that has suffered more trial than anyone I know. Even so, when I think of someone that speaks most boldly about their love for the Lord and has the most vibrant faith life, I see her face. She has lost much in the world, but would certainly say she lacks nothing.
Each time I have faced a new trial my perspective is more clear and I know from past struggles that Jesus is the answer every time. It is because of our trials, my friend and I have real joy in an active, relational faith.
We can spend much time fearing worldly circumstances, but I know for myself that it is because I have a joy displacement. I am treasuring something in the world more than I am the creator of that blessing.
I want to end with another time in scripture that the word joy is used in describing trial. In Hebrews it says that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him (his eternal relationship with us).
let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1b-2, emphasis mine
I cannot even begin to imagine having his perspective of future joy as Jesus willingly endured that kind of physical and emotional pain and suffering for undeserving people. For me and for you. When we understand that kind of love God has for us, it is then that we lack nothing.