Consider It All Joy When You Encounter Various Trials
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." - James 1:2-4
Much of what counts for American Christianity today would be unrecognizable to 1st century Jesus followers, and has little appeal to those unfamiliar with or uninterested in Christian ways. Too much of our faith just looks like affluence and privilege to the outside world, as we thank God for our abundance or petition Him to alleviate what ails us. I consider myself a fairly mature Christian, and one who is in particular sensitized to the seduction and idolatry of comfort, and yet if I am honest what I generally give thanks to God for and pray to Him about betrays the shallowness of my faith.
The trials James's audience were facing were not a nagging medical ailment, a stubborn child, or a leaky sink, just to cite three things I recently lamented to God about. These were Jewish Christians, scattered throughout the Mediterranean region due to intense persecution. Among them were people who were refugees, who had lost homes, and whose loved ones had been harmed or even murdered for believing in Jesus. Most of us have not once suffered such hardship in our lives. Literally James' first word to this group was that such trials should be received with great joy.
As with James' audience, we face trials of all kinds, and it is not wrong to petition God for relief and rescue for any problem big or small. But it is telling that James' primary concern for his audience is not a solution to their trials but a purpose for their trials, and not just any purpose but a great and completing purpose. And so it ought to be with us, as we encounter various trials, which we invariably will, which is that we count them as opportunities to be joyous, because they represent tests of faith that build our intestinal endurance to the end of perfecting us.
The Christian life is not about ease, and for many of us who are fortunate to live in America and have means, ease is most of what we know, whether financial security or personal safety or emotional health or social acceptance. All the more important, and all the more joyous, when we encounter various trials, for such is God's finishing process in us. Let us therefore not whine, and let us be mindful of how we approach God in our distress, for while trials are in no uncertain terms difficult and soul-wrenching, they are also opportunities for joy, for they are opportunities for God to complete us.