James is not preaching an empty grin-and-bear-it, mind-over-matter attitude towards our trials and afflictions. We should embrace them joyfully, like reuniting with long-awaited friends. And the reason we can is because they are all there ultimately because it is in the good wisdom of our God to providentially have them there. Why?
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. – James 1:2-4
Think of a long-time friend of yours. A dear friend. Maybe a lifelong friend you’ve had. Think of how you greet that friend when you finally meet again. Do you start with a warm handshake and then move in for a full mutual hug? Or do you go straight to a full arms-wide-open advance, arms locking around them in happy reunion?
Now think of doing that to your trials.
Strange, huh? Who of us would really want to do that? We naturally think of our trials as our enemies, cruel opposers of our good and thieves of our daily happiness. Rather than embrace them we want them gone, never to return.
But when we think that way, are we really thinking Biblical about our trials and our God? Are we letting the mind of Christ dwell in us richly (Phil 2:5)? James urges us to have a radically new and different perspective.
Love Your Enemies: Your Trials
James says to count it all joy when we meet with trials. We are not to hate them. We are not to run the other direction. (Though we should certainly be careful not to create our trials, if possible.) To fully understand how strange this is to our natural mindset, let’s think of examples:
- What if you praised God for your migraine while you are on your bed with the curtains drawn and your head is pounding?
- What if you acknowledge that you’d rather not have that constant, never ending high-pitched ringing in your ears (as I have for three years now), but tell the Lord that you love him no less?
- What if you turned your unemployment and job search from a prayer request to praise, acknowledging that God has not once allowed it to cause you to go without a meal or miss a mortgage payment? Giving him praise for the trial because it has built your faith to see how he has constantly provided somehow every day, week, and month?
Trials are Ordained by God
The fact is, nothing in this world happens apart from God’s decrees. That’s part of God’s sovereignty. Either he causes things to happen, or he allows them to happen and then uses them to fulfill his greater, overarching purposes.
Nothing in this world happens apart from God’s decrees.
Think of Joseph’s brothers’ mistreatment and selling him into slavery, and all that followed after in his life, and how God used it. Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and refusal to allow the Israelites to go free, and how God used that. Think back on previous trials in your own life, and how you would not be the person you are today if it wasn’t for how they forged qualities or helped remove sin in your life.