“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2
This morning I sat among a group of men who gathered together to break open the New Testament epistle (letter) from James. I had no agenda for how far we would get this first morning in the book. In an hour we had considered and discussed only the first four verses. It was a rich morning.
The men ranged in age from 25 to their late 80’s. Several seasoned, veteran missionaries were present. One thing became clear, we were all familiar with trials. Not one of us had successfully evaded them. In fact, you also are familiar with trials. They come upon all of us. If we are not in one today, we might expect one tomorrow.
To consider something painful and hard as something good that will yield joy is not a natural reflex to us. In order to follow this command there is something that we must first know. We must “know that the testing of (our) faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). This knowing is far more than simple mental assent. It is something intimate. The Bible uses the word “know” to describe physical intimacy between a husband and wife (Matt. 1:25). The word is also used to describe the intimacy that we can enjoy with God (1 John 2:3). So, to know that trials produce steadfastness is more than a piece of information that we collect and hang onto intellectually. It is something we discover to be true through experience.
The steadfastness that trials produce is an unwavering faith that God is sufficient for whatever it is that we are going through. King David possessed such a faith. At a time when he was alone and hiding to save his life he wrote: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8). At a time when David could be awake with fear he was, instead, able to sleep peacefully knowing that God was able to keep him safe.
How did David come to know this about God? Experience. He had endured other trials that had produced steadfastness, an unwavering faith that God is sufficient. Long before David faced the giant, Goliath, he had taken on lions and bears to keep his flock of sheep safe. David knew that God was sufficient. Thus, having an intimate understanding of the sufficiency of God, David was able to sleep with peace in the midst of danger.
James begins his letter by introducing himself as a servant of God. This gives us another clue into how we can become the kind of person who is able to count trials as joy. Most often, when we think of a servant we think about what the servant does for the master. There is, however, another very important aspect of servanthood that is to be understood. Yes, a servant serves their master. But a servant must also trust in his or her master for everything they have. A servant is dependent upon their master. A servant relies on their master for all that they need to live. James depended on his Master for all that he needed and his Master had not once disappointed him. James’ ability to count trials as joy did not from a steadfastness that flowed out of who James was, but rather a steadfastness that flowed out of who God is. He is faithful. He is sufficient. He can be trusted, even in trials.
If we trust God in the trials we face today, we will learn that our Master is sufficient. We will develop an unwavering faith which will help us in tomorrow’s trials. We will know peaceful sleep in the midst of trouble. We will begin to know God more as he is. Count it all joy!