“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
In college one time I went to hear a lecture given by an education specialist from England. I don’t remember his name or what he talked about, but I do remember one thing he said: humor often comes from the connection of two previously unrelated ideas. He told a joke about a guy accidentally eating a canary to make his point which I also don’t remember, but I do remember laughing until I cried. If what that guy said is true, then the opening of James’ letter here should be hilarious.
James, also know as James the Just, was the leader of the flagship church in Jerusalem. He was also the brother of Jesus, which is just an amazing thing that offers great credibility to the historicity of the resurrection because what would your brother have to do in order to convince you he was the Messiah? Short predicting and pulling off His own death and resurrection, I really can’t think of anything.
In any event, James’ letter reads a bit like the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is filled with sayings of practical wisdom that you can take and actually do something with. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to go and put into practice, but you can. This first bit of teaching that comes right out of the gate is a perfect example.
Let’s just start with the first half of v. 2 here: Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various… Now, if I were to stop reading there and you didn’t know what was coming next, how would you finish the sentence? Maybe blessings? Perhaps unexpectedly good turns? It could be kindness from strangers. We might even consider something like the opportunity to serve those around you. But that’s not what James says. You can see it.
James starts with something good, and then delivers us something we would normally consider not good at all: trials. Challenges. Hardships. Persecutions. Rough patches. Tough stuff. We are to consider it a great joy when we go through hard times. Seriously? Why? How?
Well, let’s start by making sure we understand what joy is. Joy is a kind of sublime delight that transcends our present circumstances. It is connected with happiness, but goes well beyond merely situationally-determined happiness to something that is rooted in a deeper understanding of the nature of reality. When we commit ourselves to a certain view of reality, we are enabled to choose joy as a response to it. In other words, joy is a choice. It is a learned, disciplined response to our environment. This is why James tells us to “consider it.” This isn’t a knee-jerk response, but a thoughtful, carefully chosen, reasoned reaction.
When things are going well, that’s an easy choice to make. But that’s not what James is talking about. He’s talking about making this choice when things are not going well. He’s talking about making it in a situation most people wouldn’t consider as making any sense. But again: Why? Why would we do this? Why not feel bad for ourselves? Why not get angry? Why not choose resentment?
Because it is the testing of our faith through these various trials we face that produces endurance in us. Our faith is a little like a muscle. The more we put it to use, the stronger it gets. If we live in a place where everything goes our way all the time and we never experience anything we can’t handle, our faith would become incredibly weak. If a tough situation did finally arise, we’d probably fall all to pieces because we hadn’t really learned to depend on our heavenly Father for help.
But, if we regularly find ourselves in places that go beyond our ability to handle them—first only a little and then gradually more and more—when the big challenges come, we’ll be ready for them. We’ll lean back into Jesus out of well-trained habit, and experience the wonder of His helping us overcome whatever it is.
Trials give us the opportunity to grow more fully into the remarkable creations God made us to be. They are acts of love on the part of our Father, who wants to see us grow into mature men and women. The trouble is, they don’t feel like it. Ever. This is why James tells us to “consider it.”
When we face trials of various kinds, we consciously remember that though the situations may be hard, they are giving us the opportunity to trust our faithful God and let Him shape us in the image of Christ. And in that, we feel a delighted contentedness that our God considers us as vessels worthy in Christ of bearing His image. We smile as we slog through whatever it is because we are becoming more like our Savior.
In this life trials will come. There’s no question on that. The question is how we will choose to respond to them. Let us consider it well and choose joy. Our faith is getting stronger and we are becoming more like Jesus. That is indeed something about which we can be joyful.