I'm at Jewels of Encouragement today, talking about my family and the support I give (and don't give!) them. Hope you'll stop by and learn about The Family I've Never Met. See you there!
This verse threw me for a very, very long time. I understood, fairly early in my journey as a believer, that coming to Christ wasn’t a guaranteed relocation to easy street. I was, however, guaranteed a Comforter to lean on during tough times, and His watchcare over me as they continued.
But that’s not what James is saying here, nor is it the message Paul focuses on in his letter to the Philippians. We are to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Note that this is not only in good times, but in bad as well (Paul was, after all, writing this epistle from a Roman jail).
How, you may ask, did he do that? How are WE to do that? How can we possibly have joy in the midst of loss, confusion, and desperation? How can I watch my husband undergo three brain surgeries in one year and still rejoice? Where is the joy in a chronic, debilitating illness or a financial crisis?
It all depends, I have discovered, on your perspective.The first thing I need to clarify is that there is a difference between happiness and joy. We are happy when things go our way, when our plans come to fruition, when we are pleasantly surprised. Happiness is a good feeling based on our circumstances.
Joy, on the other hand, is based not on the outward factors of our lives that can so often affect our mood, but on trust and faith. Joy is a positive confidence that things are going as they should.
So, James and Paul are not asking you to smile wide and dance a jig when, say, your spouse dies. They are, however, asking us to accept and rejoice in God’s sovereignty. We should, with the power of the Holy Spirit, display “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in the midst of our difficulties,
But how do we get to this point? Let’s finish looking at James:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
The ultimate goal of every believer should be to become more mature in the Christian walk—to become more like Christ, reflecting His nature more and more precisely. It should be the desire of our heart.
Trials are often the way the Lord develops Christlike character in His children. As we persevere through the difficulties of life, as Jesus did during His time on earth as a man, each struggle we go through, each experience we face, has the potential to make us reflect His Son more and more clearly.
Financial loss can help us appreciate what we have, making us more empathetic and generous with our belongings. Physical illness helps us to lean on and trust the Lord more, and give us many opportunities to share God’s faithfulness with others. And the list goes on.
So, I can rejoice in my difficulties because God has used them to reach a sinful world, in part by developing Christlike character in me, as well as others around us. I can truly say that, because of the trials the Lord has taken me through, I have become:
- A more loving and respectful wife
- More adept at “making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16)
- A more powerful and willing witness of the Lord’s power and love
- More likely to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- More willing to give God, rather than myself, the glory
- More willing to put others before myself (Philippians 2:3)
- A better encourager
For the purest joy, in its truest sense, will only be found in His presence. And anything that brings me closer to that time is certainly cause for joy.
He is in control. He won. All will work out for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). My suffering is temporary and serves an eternal purpose. Pure joy.
Heavenly Father, thank You for using whatever means are necessary to mold us into the image of Your Son. Help us, Lord, to keep our eyes on You, and to rejoice in the work You are doing in each of us, no matter how hard it may be. Help us, Father, to look beyond the temporal difficulties, sorrows, and struggles, trusting Your sovereignty, and Your promise that all will work out for our good. Lead us to trust You, and to rejoice in Your love and watchcare over us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
How have trials in your life brought you joy? Does seeing this difference between happiness and joy make the verse clearer to you? Do you still struggle in this area? (I know I do!)
Comment below, and/ or stop by Living by Grace and we can chat a bit!
Traveling Rough Roads With God's Strength