My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
Have you ever been asked to do something you weren’t too excited about? Something that might even cause some pain physically, mentally, or emotionally? Probably fairly often, right? Well, that happened to me one summer morning. One of my phone calls that sunny day was from the woman who chaired the women’s ministry at my family’s church. She asked me to pray about teaching the women’s Bible study group the following spring. And not only was she asking me to pray about leading the group, but she actually gave me the topic of the Bible study—“trials” of all things! Her committee had discussed the needs among women in the church and decided that the topic of successfully handling trials would be important since so many were experiencing difficulties in some form or another.
Well, little did these ladies know, but their request quickly became a trial in my life. Why, you ask? Read on!
My first response to this woman, I’m sorry to say, was negative. I don’t like to teach by assignment. I much prefer to instruct out of the overflow of my own personal study of the Bible.
My second response, I’m also sorry to say, was fear. Who would want to attend a class that majored on problems? Don’t most people want to hear pleasant, happy things? I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher of doom and gloom!
But as I talked it over with God, He changed my heart. I accepted the opportunity as coming from Him…that He was asking me to address the everyday, every-person exposure to trouble, and that He had some things to teach me. The church committee was indeed wise: Trials are part of life, including mine…and yours.
Looking to Another Teacher
Once I worked through the trial of doing something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do and accepted the challenge of diving into the topic of trials, my mind raced to James, the writer of the book of James in the Bible. I thought James might have had a similar experience because he taught about trials.
Imagine yourself in James’ position. He was given an assignment to teach a course that could have been entitled “Trials 101.” Knowing that all Christians suffer, the president of the college— God Himself—asked James to create curriculum that would give all Christians the basics needed for handling bad times.
Oh, but that’s not all! James was essentially told the class would have to be a correspondence course. Why? Because he would never meet or talk to the people who needed and “studied” this course designed to help them manage their problems and challenges. Therefore James’ assignment was to write instructions that were universal—that would help in any and every situation for all time. He was to put in writing information that would aid any and every Christian, from the babe in Christ facing initial growing pains to the seasoned saint on his or her deathbed. He was to communicate guidelines that would instruct God’s people in how to handle everything from a small insult to a major catastrophe.
What would you do if you were James? What would you say? Where would you start? My friend, this is exactly the assignment God gave to James. There were some saints “out there” who needed help. Jewish believers living outside Jerusalem and Palestine, outside the hub of Christianity, were confronting a variety of trials. James’ job was to give them advice on how to deal with their problems in a godly way.
And what were the results of God’s assignment to James? Here are a few facts surrounding James’ timeless lessons to all believers on how to find God’s path through trials.
Getting Straight to the Point
To begin, the book of James is the first New Testament epistle (letter) written, dated just 15 years after the death of Christ. It is a bold, straight-to-the-point, practical manual on holy living under any and all conditions—including distress. Filled with wisdom, the epistle of James has been likened to the book of Proverbs because of its short, razor-sharp statements regarding godly living.
How did James fulfill his assignment from God? He sat down and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote lists of advice for his unseen readers—a catalog of principles, of do’s and don’ts, of rules to live by. He gave his brothers and sisters in Christ words of wisdom for all circumstances.
And why was James chosen to do this? Possibly because he was the half-brother of Jesus (see Matthew 13:55). You see, James—a younger sibling in the household—would have witnessed firsthand how Jesus, the Son of God and the Perfect Man, handled trials.
Now pretend you’re James. What would you say to begin your course billed as “Trials 101”? The greeting card industry would probably say to the poor, suffering saints: “Thinking of you” or “Get well soon!” or “Hang in there, baby!” Some psychology books would suggest to these problem-ridden people that they could withdraw, seek to win, fight, give in, or compromise. Amazingly, James’ course in The School of Trials offered advice differing vastly from these sentiments and counsel. In just nine words, James dove right in, got straight to the point, and issued a command:
Bypassing all triviality, small talk, words of introduction, and sugarcoating, James exhorted his readers to face their trials head-on and take a positive approach—to rejoice in their troubles! Sound impossible? It is…unless we understand several truths about trials.
Trials Are a Fact of Life
Life isn’t easy. And being a Christian isn’t easy either. Sure, we have newness of life in Christ and our assurances from God. But as believers we can expect to be jostled by trials all along the way:
- Peter told his readers: “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
- Paul wrote that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
- Jesus taught that “in the world you will have tribulation” ( John 16:33).
We can be sure trials will hit us. All kinds of experiences will come to us, including negative ones. But when they arrive, says James, we have choices to make. One of those choices is attitude. God allows us the privilege of choosing our attitude. We can be bitter, angry, disgruntled, or depressed. It’s up to us. Or we can choose to be women who sigh…and sigh…and sigh in defeat some more. We can slump, scowl, sulk, and complain.
But James recommends a better way, a better outlook to choose—indeed, the best way! He shares with us the right choice. He encourages us to decide to have a joyful attitude. James’ first rule for joyful living in unjoyful circumstances is to “count it all joy.”
Learning to Count
Just as the ABCs are basic to learning how to read, so a knowledge of the 1-2-3s is fundamental to learning how to triumph in trials. James’ elementary, bare-bones course on godly endurance in suffering includes learning to count. He says “count it all joy” when you encounter every trial. Whenever I read these words, my immediate reaction is to not like them. God’s words through James are unexpected and shocking, like ice water thrown in my face. Why? Because I want James (and everyone!) to identify with me, to feel my pain. I want empathy and sympathy. I want someone to cut me some slack. I want someone to woo me into a godly attitude.
However, because an obedient heart is something I desire (and I’m thinking you do too), I realize that I have to learn to count instead of counting on others. To “count” means to evaluate, to consider, and to account for something. In the case of James 1, verse 2, it is the trial that is to be evaluated to the point that a decision is made to “count” it as all joy. To “count” involves careful, deliberate judgment. In the end, we are supposed to look at the trial—whatever it is—and count it as joy.
I have learned several things about this “counting.” First, counting a trial as joy is done with the mind…not the emotions. It is a matter of faith, not of feelings. It is a mental discipline. And it is an issue of sheer obedience. God is not asking Christians who are involved in trials to “feel” joy. No, He is asking them to follow His instructions and “count” (to evaluate, consider, determine, and decide) those trials to be joy.
And second, counting trials as joy has nothing to do with the body or how a Christian is feeling physically. Counting eliminates evaluations according to physical experience against the idea that “if it feels good, it is a good thing,” “if it feels bad, it must be a bad thing” notions.
Christians, therefore, are not to “count” or evaluate their trials according to looks or feelings. Counting is done not by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). By faith and in obedience we choose to count any and every trial as joy. Why? Because that’s what God says we must do to find His path through our trials.
Where does today find you? Where do you reside, and do you want to be there or like being there? For a woman, many times the place she resides is not her ideal. For instance, if you are married, you may follow your husband as he leads you halfway around the world…or maybe he desires to make no moves at all while you’re itching for a new start. You leave family—sisters, brothers, parents, married children, grandchildren, and friends—behind as you cleave to your husband. Like Sarah in the Old Testament (Genesis 12:1-5), you may have to leave behind all that is familiar and friendly to taste that which is different and what may not seem beneficial at the time to you and your family.
And if you’re single, you experience loss as your job takes you from place to place, tearing you away from loved ones, a good church, and your support system. It may seem like you’re starting over…and over…and over again.
My friend, these are trials.
And in what state of mind or spirit does today find you? Are you suffering from sorrow, discouragement, fear, anxiety, worry, loneliness, or despair? Even the powerful warrior King David had his days of dismay. He had his problems with people. David cried out to God, “Have mercy on me, O LORD! Consider my trouble from those who hate me” (Psalm 9:13). He had times when he thought he would surely die: “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD” (Psalm 27:13).
Can you relate? Is any issue or problem—a relationship, an illness, a life circumstance—troubling you today? More than likely the answer is yes. You can take a giant, positive step forward by realizing the truth that trials are a fact of life. Don’t get blown away by trials. Don’t wonder why something happened to you. Don’t accuse God of evil with thoughts like How could a loving God let this happen? Don’t doubt God, wondering, Where is God when I need Him? or Where was God when this happened? And please don’t give in to anger, depression, and discouragement. And don’t decide, “Well, I’ll just drop out of this race. I give up! I can’t go on. In fact, I don’t even want to go on.”
And don’t put off a positive attitude, thinking, When the pain eases up, I’ll be more joyful or When this is over, I’ll be happy again. Then I’ll have joy.
Instead, acknowledge the truth that trials are part of life on this planet. Follow God’s advice through James and “count it all joy.” Make the right choice of attitude—the one God prescribes. Bow your knee, your heart, and your emotions before God Almighty and express your heart attitude: “God, I don’t like this, but You say I am to count this trouble as joy. Therefore, by Your grace, I am choosing to do so.”
Will you do this? Accepting the truth about trials makes all the difference in your day, in your hardships, and especially in your life! This is God’s path through your trials. You can be a joyful woman in your problems and regardless of your problems.