COUNT IT ALL JOY?
"Count it nothing but joy when you're faced with trials of various kinds," he says. 1
And he means what? That we should pretend we're not devastated at profound loss? That we must see to it that we don't feel pain while under a crushing burden?
We must learn to listen to Scripture with care. James' tone in this text—is it jovial or does it have that an earnest appeal sound? Does the angel snarl, "Don't be afraid!" at the shepherds near Bethlehem? 2
James says count it pure joy and the Lord says, "When you pray, ask the Holy Father 'lead us not into trial'." James says when we're under trial count it nothing but joy and Jesus says ask that you'll be spared trial. 3
It’s vitally important that we not only hear Scripture well but we must teach it with care, especially when we’re talking to people who are under profound pressure. We're not to speak of someone else’s crucifixion as if it were “a challenge”. What’s happening includes who it’s happening to. [Are they highly strung? Do they have a support network? Are they experienced with life?]
Then there’s this. Paul “boasts” on the fact that he worries over the little churches he established. Of Jesus in the garden we’re told he was “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.” 4 Does that read like they were counting the trials “nothing but joy”? Those words are a description of a “joyful” Jesus?
The James who said 1:2 also said 5:1-11. He’s a realist and knows he is dealing with humans and not robots. The same Paul who was anxious said, “Yes I know what sorrow is but I know what joy is.” 5
Her name’s Agnes and she's a faith-filled daughter of God. She’s been wrestling with cancer for a long time. By the time you read this she may well have died. My daughter and I went by to see her again the other day at her home. Hospital bed, so frail, bones staring at each other, dressings, creams, ointments, pills, oxygen tanks and plastic tubes, morphine pumps, hypodermics, labored breathing, profound weariness, a predator inside her, a ticking clock.
Peter says trials prove the reality of our faith. 6
James says trials works patience and more. 7
Paul says trials produce utter dependence on God and an entire litany of strengths and that’s why, he says, we “rejoice” in our sufferings. 8
Trials do all these things but they hurt! Jesus sat on a hill chest heaving, eyes streaming, heart throbbing, he’s sobbing his heart out because the people he loves are soon to be slaughtered because they haven’t sense enough to embrace their redeemer. 9
Still, what is it that leads these men to say there’s joy not just after but also in trials? What is it that leads Agnes to listen intently, lift her eyebrows now and then and weakly nod approval? It isn’t just wise words about the usefulness of severe trials; it’s what lies behind those wise words—the gospel!
What do you say to people who are on the rack and are to suffer even further? Peter spoke to such people in a letter that’s a sustained discussion of suffering and before he talks of their suffering he reminds them who they are! 10
“You are the chosen of the Holy Father,” he says!
“You are those who are sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” he says!
“You are the covenant People—covenanted in the blood of Jesus Christ,” he says!
And he repeats this kind of thing again in the next chapter! Like their Master these people are rejected by “the world” but the truth is they are a holy nation, a royal priesthood and a people uniquely related to God. Convince people of that and they begin to see life differently; they see all of it as a single story and they see the various phases of that story taken up into a move toward a glorious finale; they see their own personal story as part of a grand overarching Story in which they are playing a significant part. Suffering and the transition out of this into another mode of living—these too are part of a divine Story being told in a world that has death and dying as part of it; but not the end of it. Convince people by the truth of the gospel about God in Jesus Christ of that and gospel truth from God empowers them even now as they groan with breaking hearts over loved ones or a suffering humanity or in physical pain as they see the approach of Death!
Such people and the Lord Jesus have much in common!
There may have been a time when they thought that great trials [whatever their form or source] would drive them from God, would turn them into whimpering cowards and that their faith would turn out to be a flimsy halfhearted thing. Now under trial they know better. Their faith is shown to be genuine, as fire exposes and purifies gold. To be certain of that is a spellbinding realization. To the heartless forces and people in the world great sufferers say, “I used to think you could make me do anything because you could make me cry, make me scream in protest or fill me with confusion. I thought you might be able to make me walk away from any commitment, renege on any promise; I used to think you were too strong for me but now I know better!”
And that conviction and the response under trial can do no less than generate joy!
James encourages them to expect that kind of triumph and so to rejoice—they will experience the triumph their Lord experienced.
So will we!
So gospel [gospel!] to one another at every opportunity and so empower one another and experience personal blessing as well as blessing the world by embodying His Story in its presence.
1. James 1:2
2. Luke 2:8-10
3. Matthew 6:13
4. 2 Corinthians 11.16, 28: Mark 14.33, Phillips
5. 2 Corinthians 6:10 and context.
6. 1 Peter 1:7
7. James 1:2-4
8. Romans 5:3-5
9. Luke 19:41-44
10, 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:4-10
Do I need to say that a hang-nail is not a ravaging pancreatic cancer? Do I need to say that extreme poverty and prolonged unemployment for those who truly want to work are more than recurring inconveniences? Some of us do whine habitually over trivial things. That's a disease and we need cured.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.