Trials and Joy

Recently, a cocktail of circumstances caused me to lose my joy. You know how it is, any one of them on their own is tough but manageable, but when they all descend on you, it feels like the perfect storm. In the storm I could look at the horizon, and all I could see was wave after wave. On one particular evening at rush hour (which should really be called ‘park hour’) as I was commuting around the M25, right around the M3 junction (Surrey Police tell me it is the busiest junction in Europe, and I believe them), I was meditating on James 1:2-4. “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.”

I knew I was not counting it all joy. I suppose I could have yelled at myself saying “What’s wrong with you Pastor Matt! Be joyful!!!” But I’m not sure that would have done anything besides make me feel more powerless at my inability to conjure up joy. The fact of the matter is, I was trying to find my joy somewhere else. The trials made it impossible for that ‘happy place’ to bring me joy and so I was without joy. Instead of trying to pull myself up by the proverbial bootstraps, I thought about the source of joy in these verses.

James is saying that we should count it joy because God is at work! Think about this. Trials tend to make me think God has abandoned me. Rather, trials are actually the finger of God working good in my life. God’s goal is that I would be complete and lack nothing. Thus the fact that God has allowed the trial (or even the perfect storm) is an act of his loving care perfecting me. God is present. God is active. God is changing me. He is changing me by revealing to me where my joy has wandered. He is changing me by teaching me patience and perseverance. He is changing me by causing me to yield to God’s agenda of change. He loves me too much to leave me unchanged.

It was at this point that I began to count it all joy. It was seeing the loving and committed hand of God work on my life, not through the absence of trial, but through the presence of the trial. How do you respond to trials and hardship? What is your view of God’s purposes and God’s love in those moments? Do you beat yourself up for not having joy? Or do you look to the joy giver and recognize his love at work in your life? We count it all joy because we know God is covenanted with us and is committed to our becoming more like Jesus. He works faithfully to change us. He has not abandoned us… rather he is radically present. So count it all joy. See how he loves you, and let that love perfect you and complete you.

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