James 1:2-4 says: 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. Historically, I must admit, I’ve basically blown off this verse. I would never admit this to fellow believers, but deep down the idea of having a perspective of “pure joy” when facing a trial seemed like complete nonsense to me. I rationalized the verse away by assuming that perhaps James was just simply using hyperbole to make a point. Maybe we shouldn’t curse God when facing trials of many kinds. I can buy that, but have joy; better yet, have pure joy? Right.
I’m slowly beginning to see that my arrogance in blowing off Scripture might, just perhaps, be a bit misguided. It could be that James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit no less, actually meant the very thing he wrote down. Even to the point of it not being hyperbole at all. Perhaps he even meant what he wrote to the point of being slightly understated in his admonition. Could that be possible? Can considering the passage of trials as cause for “pure joy” actually be considered an understatement? Maybe the answer to that question boils down to how pure your definition of “pure” is. (Hey, I’m originally from Arkansas too…)
So, how are we to consider facing and enduring trials as being cause for pure joy? Let me share with you a couple of very real trials that I currently face so that we have something concrete with which to work. Your trials will likely be different in both scope and intensity, but perhaps you can think through your own struggles as I discuss mine. Two trials come quickly to mind for me. 1.) The loneliness and real sense of hopelessness associated with being single. 2.) A relationship that is particularly challenging for me to deal with and yet is completely unavoidable. I’ll elaborate just a little on each, but only with the purpose of providing some concrete examples to think through. My hope is that you will consider whatever you are going through, or have gone through, in place of what you read here.
Trial number one. I would prefer not to be single. That hasn’t always been the case, but with increasing intensity, it is the case now. Furthermore, as time passes the likelihood of marriage seems to fade. In fact, for me singleness can feel like a terminal disease, especially in the Church. I sometimes jokingly refer to singleness, in a not-so-jokingly way, as evangelical leprosy. You wonder at times if you should wear a sign that reads: “Unclean!” So, take ever diminishing hope and mix it with ever increasing desire and that can make for some real, heart felt pain.
Trial number two. By nature, I’m non-confrontational to a fault. In other words, I think I often fall into sin just to avoid confrontation. (I’m not condoning this characteristic) Nonetheless, I happen to have a particular relationship in my life from which I cannot easily remove myself and with whom I find interaction to be extremely challenging without becoming angry. You might say the person rubs me the wrong way. Now, this is a big source of discomfort for me because, by nature, I really don’t like to “not like” someone. Furthermore, it seems as though just being around this person causes sin to gush out of me instead of merely oozing out like normal. Sin oozes out of me all the time, but its flow rate is more like Niagara Falls when I’m around this person. The net effect upon seeing the sin gusher in my life is I become even more frustrated, then out comes even more sin… and back we go around this not-so-merry-go-round. Numerous trips are made.
So where do we find “pure joy” over and above just plain “joy” or even disgruntled resignation when experiencing trials of many kinds? I think pure joy comes when we see the graciousness our Heavenly Father extends to us when He creates and manages every minute detail of trials that are exclusively designed for us individually. That’s a mouthful. Let me try to condense it. My trials are not your trials, and that itself is remarkable. Our Father doesn’t have three sizes of trials; small, medium and large. He doesn’t pull a trial labeled M off the shelf, bend it slightly so that it sort of fits, slap it on and call it good enough. He takes the time and makes the extra effort (whatever that looks like for an omnipotent being) to tailor make my trial exactly to fit my need. He starts from scratch with you and I every time. Think about this. There is absolutely no reason for Him to take the time and put forth the effort to orchestrate all of history simply to rid you and I of our unprovoked rebellion against Him, but nonetheless that is what He chooses to do! He could just leave us to ourselves, but instead He constructs the perfect fixture of circumstances that lock us in and squeeze us and reveal in us sin that He then graciously excises with the scalpel of yet more perfectly constructed circumstances. The whole point, I think, is that God doesn’t have to love us this much. In fact, even if He did just have three trials; small, medium and large, and he slapped on the closest one that fit our need, that alone would be reason for thanksgiving and joy. That alone would be unwarranted favor. The fact that He actually takes the time to uniquely and individually craft our struggles to fit us exactly is the reason for “pure joy” instead of just mere “joy”.
This is all far easier to write about, or talk about, than to live out. But, we have to see the real grace God lavishes on us by giving us trials that are uniquely suited to perfecting us individually. When we see trials in this light, we can, with true sincerity, pray that God would not remove the trial until it has accomplished its purpose. We can say, “This is my trial, and it’s meant only for me.” We can give thanks for the trial. And, we can pray that the areas He wishes to perfect would be thoroughly fixed so that He can perhaps remove the trial in due time.