When James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials, does that apply to all hardships? What about problems that are your own fault? Or if it’s something that displeases the Lord?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
A great number of our problems come not from our suffering, but from wrong interpretation of suffering and undervaluing the benefits that come from suffering. Inability to properly interpret suffering is at the root of most relationship problems, spiritual problems, marriage problems, problems in your prayer life, emotional problems, fear, guilt, depression, anxiety, worry, anger, and selfishness.
James’ goal is to teach us the proper way to interpret hardships and awaken us to the immense value of the benefits our trials can provide.
The starting point for finding joy during suffering is to place our suffering is to place suffering in the right category in our thinking. We must remind ourselves, “Regardless of how I feel or how things seem, this suffering is a good thing.” Reality must trump feeling.
Imagine you took your computer apart to replace the fan, and some annoying component was in your way. You say, “I’ll just bust that thing off and throw it away.” But a computer expert says, “No. Don’t do that. That part seems annoying, but’s actually a good thing. It’s the processor. Without it, the computer is useless.” Now that part is just as annoying as ever, but you are thinking about it as a valuable, good thing now instead of something you want to get rid of. If you trust the computer expert, your values will change. What seemed worthless is now valuable in your eyes.
If the medicine tastes terrible but the doctor says, “Without it, you’ll die,” you will pay good money for that horrible tasting medicine because you think of it as a good thing—if you trust the doctor.
Step one for finding joy in suffering is to listen to God when he says, “Trust me. This suffering I bring into your life is a good thing.”
One of the biggest favors you can do for your children is to teach them this. We all naturally think suffering is our enemy. And when a child thinks that, and he is faced with hardships he can’t escape, his life can become unbearable. Many behavioral problems in children come from the child not knowing how to handle suffering.
And that ignorance often persists into adulthood, resulting in all kinds of sinful responses. We tell lies to avoid suffering. We get angry when people cause us suffering. We get consumed with worry because we fear future suffering. We get depressed because we see no way out of our suffering. We make foolish life decisions in an effort to minimize suffering. We over-indulge to distract ourselves from suffering or because we think we deserve a break from suffering. We fail to do things we know we should do because they involve suffering.
All those responses rise from wrong interpretations—like seeing the flowers and assuming they are for your husband’s secretary when, in reality they are for you. And all those problems can all be avoided if we simply believe God when he says, “Trust Me. This is a good thing.”
“What kinds of suffering does this include? Does this apply to suffering caused by sinful people around me? Or to suffering caused by my own stupidity? Does it apply to suffering sent by God as chastisement for sin? Is it only for major suffering, like losing a loved one? Or does it also apply to stubbing your toe? Is it just physical suffering, or also emotional suffering?”
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2, emphasis mine).
That word translated “of many kinds” points to the wideness of the variety. It is not just the categories you would normally think of. This applies to any kind of suffering. Big, small, your fault, someone else’s fault, physical, emotional—any and every kind of suffering. It all counts. Consider it all pure joy.
God is saying, “Trust me. This is good. It might be an evil thing that people are doing to you, it might be an evil thing that you did to yourself, but none of that changes the fact that what I’m doing a good.”
If all the suffering in your life is good, does that mean you should seek more suffering? No. Thankfully, you can trust God to take care of giving you however much you need. You don’t have to seek it out. In fact, Scripture even teaches that it’s okay for us to seek relief from our suffering, as long as we can do so without violating any principles in God’s Word (See 1 Timothy 5:23 as an example). When James tells us to consider trials pure joy, he’s referring to suffering you can’t escape without sinning.
Of all the hardships in your life, are there any of them that need some reinterpretation in your heart? You haven’t accepted that God knew what he was doing when he put that trial in your path. You can’t consider it pure joy because you’re still stuck on thinking it’s a bad thing instead of trusting the Expert in heaven who assures you it’s a good thing.
Run through the trials in your life right now and remind yourself for each one of them, one at a time, that they are good gifts from God, serving his good purposes. And thank him for that.