“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” -James 1:2
The weeks dragged into months. Those months dragged into over a year. One of my friends, a captain on our soccer team, had been sidelined for what seemed to be forever with an injury. Bouncing from doctor to doctor, he kept getting different answers. As players, we scratched our heads. Our coaches scratched their heads. Even my teammate wondered why God was allowing this trial to continue for so long.
I felt terribly for him…I prayed often and tried to encourage him. “But,” I said, “I’m thankful it’s not me.”
Shouldn’t have said that!
I am in the middle of a trial that has lasted over six months. Ironically, I got my injury around the time my friend was starting to recover from his. Did I forget to mention that my injury is almost exactly where his was?
I’ll be the first to admit that this time of waiting has been incredibly difficult. I have rested from all “athletic” activity since the beginning of November, and I recently passed the seven-weeks-on-crutches milestone. The inactivity has been agonizing…rest was the only remedy for the injury. Lots and lots of rest.
But, the Lord has been so faithful through it all. Times have come where I was completely overwhelmed by fear and worry, but I have learned over time to give it all to the Lord. I can honestly say that I have learned to completely trust in God’s sovereignty through this difficulty.
My friend, who had been injured, has been such an incredible example and encouragement to me of persevering through trials. I saw how he walked with the Lord in difficulty, and I tried to do the same. He sent me a text the other day with encouragement from James’ verses on trials, and James’ wording struck me. In James 1:2, notice that the author doesn’t say that we should simply “not be upset by trials.” No, he goes a step further. He tells us to have joy in trials. On the surface, it might not make any sense. But once you dig into Scripture, you see why we (as Christians) can have joy in trials.
#1: We know the testing of our faith produces patience (James 1:3)
If you’ve been in a trial that has lasted any length of extended time, you know that it breeds patience. Something as simple as sitting in traffic exposes my need to relax a little! But the key to patience in trials is that we are learning to wait for God’s timing. James 1:4 says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It is entirely possible to go through a trial and learn nothing. Yet, because He is a good father, God wants us to learn from the lesson. We lack nothing when we are completely fulfilled in Christ, and to reach this point, we must learn to wait on the Lord’s timing with patience. Joy can be found in knowing that learning to wait on the Lord will deepen our relationship with Him.
#2: Trials can help us to focus on the Lord (Romans 5:1-5)
In Romans 5, Paul (similar to James) says that believers can “exult in our tribulations.” Why? Because “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3b-4). Hope. When I think of hope, sometimes I think of the more shaky kind…”I hope I do well on this test” or “I hope I get to play in the game today.” But friends, our inheritance in Christ Jesus is abundantly more rich. Paul continues to describe this hope as that which doesn’t disappoint because it is centered around the love of God (5:5). If you’ve walked with the Lord for any length of time, you probably know that it is easier for us to be aware of our need for the Lord when things are difficult than it is when life is smooth sailing. Thus, trials can help us focus on the Lord. They remind us that we need God; they remind us of our hope in Him. So, why is this a reason to rejoice in trials? Because it is increasing focus on the Lord.
#3: God is sovereign (Romans 8:28)
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Probably one of the more popular verses in Scripture, Romans 8:28 carries such an immense promise for believers. We know that God is using every circumstance for the good of those who love Him. Furthermore, God is completely sovereign and in control. Two specific instances in Scripture about this come to mind. God had to grant Satan power before he could hurt Job (Job 1:12), and God had to give Satan permission to tempt Peter (Luke 22:31). In both cases, God had the final say. This should be a tremendous comfort to followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever trials are in our lives, He first had to allow them. It is not purposeless pain. We can have joy in trials because God is sovereign and will use our trial for good.
These principles have been an enormous encouragement to me as I’ve gone through this trial over the last several months. I’m thankful to learn them now because I know that many more trials of various kinds lay ahead…it is just a part of life. Someone once said something I thought to be profound: “You are either going into a trial, in the middle of a trial, or coming out of a trial.” We will all go through trials in life, especially as followers of, and believers in, Jesus Christ (John 15:18). Yet, we know that they can increase our reliance on Him, help us focus on Him, and are ultimately for our good. These are three reasons (and there are many more in Scripture!) why Christians can have joy in trials and tribulations.