”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2 ESV
This is one of those verses that for most people is easier said than done. For one thing trials are not normally things we associate with joy, or with delight and gladness – all of which the Greek word “charan” in the original text can be translated. After the fact we may have occasion to laugh about our trials, but when we are in them it is not a laughing matter. Why should a person consider trials an opportunity for joy? And how can we possibly do it with any consistency?
The writer who assumes we can do this has impeccable credentials. He is James, the surviving brother of Jesus and the leader of the early Christian church. If anyone knew something about trials he did, both personally and as a first hand observer of the various kinds of trials suffered by all believers in the first century.
The main thing James says as an explanation for his “count it all joy” challenge is “for you know (emphasis mine) that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (vs. 3) His claim is a reasonable one. In essence he is saying that trials test our faith and a tested faith produces in us steadfastness or endurance. Since in the long run having endurance is a good thing, that puts its cause, which is trials, in a positive and redemptive light and therefore something worth counting as joy. Knowing all that should make a difference.
While it sounds logical, more often than I would like to admit, knowing the noble purpose of trials, at least in my personal experience and in my attempts to give others that perspective in their trials, hasn’t been enough to turn the joy switch on. What then is the key to counting it all joy?
The rest of the first chapter of the book of James which begins with this injunction reveals an even more fundamental key to genuinely rejoicing in dire circumstances. It has to do with a person’s view of God. And that view of God which is a source of joy, no matter what the circumstances, is the bedrock belief that GOD IS GOOD!
It is an accepted fact by most who have a concept of a monotheistic God that He is sovereign with supreme and unrestricted power. That means that He is all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent) and always present (omnipresent). But one aspect of His character which is distinctly Judeo-Christian is His goodness. (Psalm 27:13) For the Christian, God’s goodness is summed up in and revealed through the person and work of His son Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:7)
James tells his readers five things about God’s goodness. First we are encouraged that He is generous and non-condemning, quick to dispense wisdom if asked. (vs. 5) Secondly we are reminded that God promises to reward those who persevere under trial. (vs. 12) Third, we learn that God refuses to be influenced by evil or be a source of temptation. (vs. 13) Fourth, God is a giver of “every good and perfect gift.” (vs. 17) And finally, James reveals that God has a compassionate heart, particularly for the orphan and the widow. (vs. 27)
Counting all things joy therefore is based upon and flows out of an acknowledgement that God is good. And since His goodness is triumphant through His sovereignty, no matter what the present circumstance, it means that in the end good will prevail in our lives. Our immediate cause for rejoicing in the present however is more about Him, centered in the goodness of His nature rather than in the expected goodness of the long term result.
A long time believer in Christ whom I greatly admire, who is now in her late seventies has taken this “count it all joy” attitude as her daily confession. Recently she told me how her many years of seeing God in all His goodness displayed again and again in her life has led her to this conclusion. It has been for her a practical expression of faith and trust in God. It has enabled her to more fully enjoy each moment of her day. She claims it has become the abiding source of her spiritual, mental and physical health. I cannot help but believe her. The proverb that comes to mind as I imagine her counting it all joy in the ups and downs of her everyday life is this: “A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
I pray that seeing God’s goodness in my life can do the same.
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