Throughout this series we’ll cover three things: 1. How we’re to look at trials (what I mean is our disposition toward them). Which will lead into 2. the purpose of trials (what do they do?). And finally 3. we’ll learn what to do inside trials (what to do as we endure). (prayer and patience)
How do we look at trials?
Starting again at verse 2 James says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,”
Now, this is one of those commands in scripture that we either didn’t know existed, wish it wasn’t there, or we ignore it because it just seems absurd. But wait there’s more! If we dissect the phrase a little further it gets even harder to accept. The phrase is actually saying, consider it “nothing but joy” or even “a supreme joy” when you encounter various trials.
My version (The Nathan International Version the true NIV) wants this verse to say, consider it “anything but joy” when trials come. And then let your facial expressions, your speech and your body language alert everyone around you to how miserable your life is. And if you can make a Facebook post about it.
Of course my rendering misses the point terribly. And it does so on two levels. First, I’m misinterpreting joy (which is very common by the way) and second, it’s because I still don’t have the end in mind or the purpose of trial. I see them as random and meaningless.
What James is referring to as joy is actually defined as an extended state of well-being rather than our version of joy which seems to be the immediate feeling of happiness and/or pleasure. Again, misdefining joy in this way is something we do constantly.
Please hear me, the Bible is not saying that we should act happy or try to take pleasure in a trial. This would make no sense at all. Why? Because happiness and pleasure are not the same thing as joy.
What is Joy?
Think about this, how is it that the Bible would not be contradicting itself when on one hand it tells us that Jesus’ sweat had become “like drops of blood” due to anguish on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:44) and yet the writer of Hebrews said,
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2
With our definitions these don’t go together. Was Jesus in anguish or was He joyful to go to the cross? The answer is yes! The reason there’s no contradiction is because the authors of the Bible know what their terms mean. We sadly do not.
The writer of Hebrews is telling us that for the extended state of well-being set before Jesus He endured the cross. Not because crucifixion made Him happy! So what was that extended state of well-being? Believe it has to do with our ability to endure through trials. Look at what the very next verse of Hebrews 12 says,
“For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:3
It’s clear that our most extended state of well-being will be eternity with our Heavenly Father. But the joy that Jesus had, as He endured the cross and it’s shame, was that through the power of the Holy Spirit, that He would soon pour out on all flesh, because He sat at the right hand of the Father, that through that Spirit we would be given greater power to endure the trials of this life and not lose heart. Remember this, we won’t lose heart in eternity therefore this endurance is for now!
So how are we to look at a trial? The same way Jesus did. With eyes wide open to the pain and the frustration and even sometimes the shame that we will endure. But, and this is a big but, because the trials we’re talking about here have to do with our faith there is always an extended state of well-being that we are looking forward to. I say this all the time but God is more concerned with our holiness than He is with our happiness.
I think about Paul and Silas in prison. Singing and praising God (Acts 16:16-40). Does a story like this mean that they were happy and content to be put in jail for their faith? Not at all. At another point Paul is appealing to his Roman citizenship to get out of a painful beating. But what Paul and Silas show us while singing is what an extended state of well-being (a.k.a. joy) truly looks like. It’s supreme joy through trial!
This is also why James tells us to consider the prophets and Job in James 5:10-11. This is a truth we need to hear Church; the level of trial we may face could be on par with Job or even the prophets (who were killed mind you). But even through that, we’re to consider the trial a supreme joy!
Trials vs. Temptation
Trials are not the same thing as temptation. The reason for saying this is that although God cannot be tempted and does not tempt (James 1:13) He absolutely does send trials our way. It’s fascinating to me that Christians are shocked when they face trials but they are even more shocked to learn that God allows and even sends trial. This shock comes from not understanding God, His ways, the purpose of trials, or what they accomplish. Job learned this the hard way. The Lord gives and takes away!
In our last post, we will cover the purpose of trials, what they accomplish, and the right way to endure through them. Until then, I’d love to hear how your view of joy may have changed over time as you mature in Christ. Comment below or email me at email@example.com.