Pursuing Joy in Our Trials

by Stephen Salinas

How’s your 2020 going so far? Pretty easy, right? No major problems or issues? Not quite.

It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been an incredibly turbulent year for many across the globe. Due to COVID-19, many have experienced sickness, the loss of a loved one, financial hardships, strained relationships, fear, stress, and loneliness.

Additionally, in the U.S., we’ve seen civil unrest focused on issues of social and racial justice, the sudden onslaught of massive fires in California, hurricanes and tornadoes slamming the South and Midwest, and ever-increasing levels of animosity boiling over across political party lines.

As believers, what should our response be to all of these hardships? Stress? Fear? Anger? Counterintuitively, the Bible gives us a different answer: our response should be joy.

In James 1:2-12, we’re given multiple commands that should guide our response to trials and help us navigate everything we’re encountering in 2020.

Have a Proper Perspective of Trials
James is writing to Jewish believers who were experiencing increasing levels of persecution due to their newfound faith in Christ. James wants to encourage these believers and remind them that genuine faith will result in a godly response to trials.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

James 1:2

The first thing he tells them is to consider everything that they were encountering in their persecutions as joy. They needed to correct their mental accounting of what they were experiencing and start thinking about trials as a source of joy.

How is it possible to think of suffering as a source of joy? This is primarily a matter of the will rather than the emotions. It stems from right thinking—when we encounter the variety of trials that can ambush us in this life, we need to view them as beneficial to us.

Beyond just being a message for first century Jewish believers, this is a universal message for all believers in all time periods. As impossible as it may seem, we can approach the hardships we’re encountering in 2020 with joy. How can we do that? James gives us his reasons for this in the next few verses.

Understand God’s Purpose in Trials 
James tells us that God uses trials to test our faith and produce steadfastness in us. Later, he says that God will never tempt us to sin, so this testing of a believer’s faith is not something in which God wants or expects us to fail. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:3-4

For true Christians, trials will reveal the genuineness of our faith, which will produce patience and perseverance in us. We can have joy because this is ultimately more beneficial to us than whatever loss or trouble we’re experiencing.

The apostle Paul reminds us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). We can trust that God is sovereign over everything in life, including our trials. So, even the testing we encounter through trials is working for our good.

This truth should strengthen our faith that God will hold on to us during our troubles. Scripture offers many examples of believers, such as Job, Daniel, and Joseph, who God held on to during unimaginable trials to both accomplish His perfect will and grow those individuals in spiritual maturity.

By submitting to God’s purposes in trials, we can fully maximize the benefit of trials: spiritual maturity which comes from a deeper dependence on the Lord.

What else should we be doing when we encounter trials?

Seek Wisdom in Trials 
It’s safe to say that we all lack wisdom, particularly in trials. What does James say to that? “If any of you lack wisdom, figure it out?” No—he says to ask God for wisdom:  

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8

God is the source of all wisdom and James says God will generously give wisdom to all who ask rightly. God wants to give you wisdom. He delights in giving you wisdom.

What does it mean for God to give us wisdom? Does it mean that God will give us some sort of mystical revelation? No. He has given us His Word which is full of wisdom and He has given us the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture. He will enable us to understand, believe, and apply His Word to our trials in a way that will guide us towards obedience and honoring Him.

James does add a condition for us to receive wisdom from God: we must ask in faith. We need to believe God with a child-like trust. If we doubt, we’re unstable, like a wave being tossed about in the midst of an intense storm. Doubting also makes us double-minded, like a person with split personalities being pulled in different directions. If we doubt that God will help us, we won’t receive wisdom and realize the full benefit of our trials.

In the following few verses, James tells us what our spiritual posture should be in the midst of trials.

Pursue Humility in Trials
When we encounter trials, we must allow God to humble us and we must repent of any traces of pride or self-reliance. James comments,

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

James 1:9-11

Trials are the great equalizer. They break us down and humble us. They teach us to not rely on ourselves. They impact all of us, no matter our station in life.

If we’re poor and encounter trials, we can rejoice in the fact that we’re already in a lowly position and dependent on God.

If we’re rich and we encounter trials, we can also rejoice, even if we lose our wealth. Trials will humble us and remind us of our own fragility and that wealth cannot save us.

Trials remind us that riches, success, and the praise of men are as fleeting as the grass that is green in spring, but withers in the summer sun. The loss of our own selfish pursuits in trials can bring blessing by driving us closer to the Lord.

Finally, James tells us of the outcome of persevering in trials.

Remain Steadfast in Trials
True believers who remain faithful under trials will be blessed with profound inner joy and satisfaction both now and in eternity. When we’ve stood the test, we’ll receive the crown of life. This carries the imagery of an athlete competing in a race and receiving a crown of victory. James writes,

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

What is the crown of life? Eternal life. At the end of our earthly lives, we’ll stand before God, but we won’t face condemnation, because Christ paid for all of our sins (Rom 8:1). Because we’re clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we’ll be rewarded with eternal life.

Is receiving eternal life ultimately dependent on the believer’s effort to persevere? No. God has promised the crown of life to those who love Him. While we bear the responsibility to pursue faithfulness out of love for God and obedience to His Word, God promises that true believers will remain steadfast. (Phil 1:6; Jude 1:24; 1 John 5:4). Perseverance doesn’t result in salvation. Perseverance is the result of salvation.

As we encounter the multi-faceted trials of 2020, let’s focus on remaining steadfast and being obedient to the commands of James 1:2-12:

  • Have a right perspective of trials by pursuing joy in them
  • Believe that God is using trials to produce perseverance in us
  • Ask God for wisdom and believe He will give it to you
  • Pursue humility by letting go of material things
  • Focus on the promise of eternal life

I pray that God will richly bless you with joy and spiritual maturity as you trust His sovereign purposes in your trials in 2020 and beyond.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

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