[When] inevitable trials come, our first strategy, according to [the book of] James, is to consider it all joy. What could he possibly mean?
In his book Where Is God When It Hurts?, Philip Yancey tells about Claudia, a beautiful newlywed who discovered that she had Hodgkin’s disease. One of her greatest challenges in coping with her trial was presented by her host of well-meaning friends who came to the hospital to see her. One woman, whom Claudia described as the most spiritual in her church, came often to read aloud from books about praising God. Her speeches to Claudia routinely sounded like this:
Claudia, you need to come to the place where you can say, “God, I love You for making me suffer like this. It is Your will. You know the best for me. And I just praise You for loving me enough to allow me to experience this. In all things, including this, I give thanks.”
Claudia said that as she would ponder these words, her mind would be filled with gruesome visions of God:
She imagined a figure in the shape of a troll, big as the universe, who delighted in squeezing helpless humans between his fingernails, pulverizing them with his fists, dashing them against sharp stones. The figure would keep torturing these humans until they cried out, “God, I love You for doing this to me!” The whole idea repulsed her, and Claudia knew that she could never worship or love a God like that.
When James tells us to consider it all joy when we fall into various kinds of trials, he is not counseling us as Claudia’s friend did.
To consider it all joy in the midst of our trials is to respond with a deliberate, intelligent appraisal of our situation. Navy Captain Larry Bailey, commanding officer of the Coronado School for the training of SEALs, said, “Completing Hell Week is 90 percent mental. The men don’t believe it at first, but it is.”
The same is true for Christians going through trials—90 percent of their success is mental and spiritual. They must learn to look at the experience from God’s perspective and recognize the trial not as a happy experience in itself but as the means of producing something very valuable in life.
Spiros Zodhiates explains that the word consider “should rather be translated, ‘think forward, consider, regard.’ As you live in the present consider the future, think forward to the future. Gloom now, but glory in the days to come.”
Paul experienced this strange joy. He wrote, “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 7:4). When the apostles were beaten because of their bold testimony for Christ, they went out “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Once again Philip Yancey helps us to understand this often-misunderstood concept: By those words [rejoice and be glad], the apostles did not intend a grin-and-bear-it or act-toughlike- nothing-happened attitude. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering or in Paul’s.… Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying the pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Such a view distorts honesty and true expression of feelings. Christianity is not phony.
The Bible’s spotlight is on the end result, the use God can make of suffering in our lives. Before He can produce that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust in Him, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing.
CALCULATE THE RESULTS OF YOUR TRIALS
The believer has to look above the immediate unpleasantness of the trial and find joy in what God will accomplish by it. Paul said something to the Roman Christians that is very helpful here:
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:3–5)
In his book The Fight, John White writes, “Tough times … either make you or break you. If you are not utterly crushed by them … you will be enlarged by them. The pain will make you live more deeply and expand your consciousness.”
Trials Produce Durability
James says that the testing of our faith produces patience. Patience is not a passive term but an active one. It is not a resignation to whatever happens but a strong and tough resolution in the midst of very adverse circumstances. It would be better translated as “steadfastness,” “perseverance,” or “brave endurance.”
This word is used of Job in James 5:11: “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” Trials in the lives of believers refine their faith so that the false is stripped away and the genuine faith that continues to trust God can develop victorious positive endurance.
William Barclay points out that the endurance of the early Christians was not a passive quality: “It is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and glory.
The thing which amazed the heathen in the centuries of persecution was that the martyrs did not die grimly; they died singing.”
Trials Produce Maturity
James uses two expressions here to define maturity in the life of the believer. When durability has done its perfect work, it causes the Christian to be perfect and complete.
First of all, mature believers are perfect. This word means “to be fully developed.” Without durability in trials, believers have not yet fully matured. They must learn to persevere in trials so that the work that God has begun in them will be brought to completion.
Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh. While that request was not answered as Paul desired, God did answer him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The term perfect is the same word that James uses here. We are to persevere in our trials so that the work that God has begun in us may be brought to completion.
On one occasion, David prayed about this aspect of the Lord’s work: “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; do not forsake the works of Your hands”(Ps. 138:8).
Second, mature believers are complete. This word refers to something that has all its parts and therefore is whole. It is possible for Christians to be fully grown or mature in most areas of life but be missing this ingredient of steadfastness in trials. Until this has been experienced, they are not yet complete.
The great theologian John Calvin was weak and sickly and hounded by persecution, and yet he brilliantly guided thousands of believers during the Reformation. Suffering from rheumatism and migraine headaches, he continued to write proliferously and preach powerfully, as well as govern the city of Geneva for twenty-five years. Said Calvin, “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.”