Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kindsJames 1:2
There are many ways Jesus has called his followers to live differently than the rest of the world. Just a few examples include:
- Live holy lives as our Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 5:48, 1 Peter 1:15),
- Live for God’s glory, not our own (Matt. 5:16),
- Live generously toward those in need (Acts 20:35, 2 Cor 9), and
- Live purposefully sharing the message and implications of the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners who place their faith in him (Matt 28:19-20).
But of all the ways following Jesus leads us to live differently than the rest of the world, how Christians understand and respond to their pain and suffering is maybe one of the more perplexing for many people.
Not A Fringe Theology
Pastor Tim Keller writes in Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering:
“Suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experience his redemption. And that means that our suffering, despite its painfulness, is also filled with purpose and usefulness.”
Indeed, along with understanding that God has a purpose in our pain comes the idea of being able to find joy in our pain. Throughout the New Testament we encounter this idea of Christians finding joy in the midst of suffering.
Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Luke writes in Acts 5:40-41 how the apostles rejoiced even through a beating administered by the Jewish Council. Luke writes, “and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 10:34 about how those he wrote to “joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, since they knew that they had a better, lasting possession in heaven.”
And James writes in James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 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.”
So this isn’t some fringe theology. Finding joy in suffering flows from faith in Jesus because the hope of Jesus offers us an incomparable joy.
But our ability as Christians to find joy in our trials is not because the trials themselves are such a happy experience. The trial itself is never our source of joy.
Our source of joy in any circumstance is always Jesus. What the trials do, however, is help open our eyes to see Jesus in a much clearer and more complete way that we would never see if we were only ever blinded by comfort and easy living.
It’s like when you try to look up at the stars at night when you’re in a city. You can see some stars, but light pollution keeps you from seeing them as clearly as you otherwise would away from the lights.
But when you get out of the city and into the country away from all the lights and look up, it’s like you’re looking at an entirely different sky. You see far more stars and you see them far brighter. You see the sky in a much more complete and clearer way than when you’re in the city.
Just like getting out of the city helps us see the stars more clearly, trials often enable us to begin to see Jesus more clearly.
Often only through trials do we see more brightly Jesus’s faithfulness, grace, mercy, love, care, and sovereignty that he is always working for us but that we often take for granted.
When trials in life cause our lesser sources of hope, identity, and security to crumble, we can then begin to see that Jesus is the only One that never fails us, never leaves us, and never forsakes us.
And only when we see Jesus clearly do we begin to become like him. And becoming like Jesus should bring us great joy.
From Head to Heart
It’s great to have head knowledge about Jesus. We desperately need to continually learn more and more about Jesus.
But head knowledge alone rarely changes people.
That’s why it’s often through difficult times that the Spirit will begin to migrate truths about Jesus from just facts in our heads and help them become treasures in our hearts.
In other words, the testing of your faith through hard times takes knowledge of Jesus from just facts you know and helps it become a treasure that you love.
And a treasure that you love will transform your life.
Seeing Clearly Leads to Loving Deeply
When we see Jesus more clearly, we will love him more deeply. And it’s this enduring love that will empower us to trust God and find joy in the work he does in us through our trials to make us increasingly more like Jesus.