the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
There are a lot of people who read James’ comments concerning life’s trials and wonder how it is possible to align his message with the “real world.” After all, to suggest that one should be happy about a life filled with problems seems unusual at best. Yet there it is in black and white – “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” The thing is James knew more about the real world than any of us ever will; he, like the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ Himself, knew that in the reality of the Kingdom, servants of God must joyfully embrace difficulty as a godsend.
Part of the problem is the way we Moderns define joy. We tend to think of joy in sensuous terms, something like a perpetual state of giddy pleasure. The Bible doesn’t. In Scripture joy is more like an activity, a man’s pleasure in his progress toward Christ-likeness. In part it is an attitude or a state of mind wherein one focuses on something other than the current difficult circumstances; the goal of spiritual growth located just beyond the horizon of tribulation. Yet it also includes the emotional aspects we typically equate with joy - a sense of pleasure which finds its foundation in the rock solid knowledge that God is lovingly active in our lives. Thus James teaches that experiencing trial and tribulation is grounds for rejoicing because difficulty is used by God to test our faith and shape us into the image of His son.
Another reason we should rejoice in trials is because hard times expose our weakness and magnify Christ’s strength. As the Lord informed the Apostle Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). When Paul relates his experience to the church in Corinth he doesn’t discuss the “personal” benefits of tribulation (learning patience, etc.). He merely points out that Christ’s power is made evident in our lives as we traverse the path of trials. Because of this, Paul gloried in all sorts of difficult situations. Why? Because in Paul’s weakness, Christ’s strength was made manifest. And that brought glory to our Lord. And, that should be a cause for joy. In my own situation related above, this somehow seemed easier than finding joy in the other benefits of trial and tribulation. The joy I found in admitting that I am nothing and that Christ is everything truly was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
There is a third reason we should have joy in trials and that is the fact that the turmoil of life serves to display God’s majesty and might. In other words, the rugged road of the difficult life itself proclaims the glory of God. More on this next week.