Consider it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2 ESV).
Trials will come. Count on it.
To say so does not brand you a pessimist. Quite the opposite. To heed the words of James and to recognize that trials are woven into the fabric of every life makes it possible for us to discover what it means to live our days with strength and hope. That’s James’s point in these opening words of his letter. He wants to cultivate strength and steadfastness in his readers. These will not be gained by ignorance or denial.
One Size Fits One
Having said as much, however, let’s also recognize that James is casting a wide net. Trials may be inevitable, but they are not identical. James speaks of various trials. This means that you and the trial you’re facing today are included.
New Testament scholars have noted that the word James uses for “trial” can be used in a couple of different ways. Some understand the word to be used with regard to an internal experience. In this sense the word is very much like the enticement to sin that James speaks of in 1:14. Others understand “trials” to be external and circumstantial. Quite often these are things that come to us uninvited and unexpected, eroding the foundations of our faith.
Trials that send tremors through the soul come in many different forms. You may be in a financial crisis, you may be battling an illness, you may be searching for work, you may be tired of singleness or even lonely in a marriage. Trials can stretch the limits of our patience and our hope. They can linger long and wear you down over months and years. They can blindside you in a moment and leave you immobilized.
Trials grow out of the soil that is your life – your family, your work, your plans, your body. Trials seem to come to us tailor-made. One size fits one.
Since trials come to us in this way, varied and indigenous to the habitat of our own lives, one thing we should avoid is making comparisons. For some reason, we tend to place our own trials next to those we see around us. There are a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea and an unhelpful practice.
For one thing, when we look at our trials next to the far more painful or tragic experiences of others we might downplay or dismiss the significance of what we’re going through. Sometimes we do this intending to find comfort or solace. “At least I’m not (fill in the blank),” or “Others are suffering far more than I am.” All of that might be true, but that doesn’t change what God might be doing in your own trial.
On the other hand, if we see our trials and wonder why others around us have it so much easier than we do, we can begin to harbor a resentment – maybe against those others, or maybe against God. If not resentment, we might slide into self-pity.
What James seems eager to show us really has little to do with trials and everything to do with God and God’s purposes in them. Every trial is an invitation to steadfastness, and exercising steadfastness does something to our faith. Faith deepens, grows stronger, develops depth and maturity. We increasingly take on the likeness of Jesus, which is exactly what God intends for us.
That’s what it means to ‘count it all joy.’ The joy doesn’t come from the trial itself, but from what we know God is doing in our trials. Trials are varied, but God’s aim in them is singular. God wants to make you steadfast and solid in your walk with him.
What kind of trial is God using to do that work in your life today?
So often, O God, we work hard to avoid trials. We wonder what we did wrong to deserve them and what we can do right to end them. By the presence of your Spirit, help us to face our trials – in their many and varied forms. Help us to trust that you are at work in all of them. We invite you to do your work in us throughout this day and whatever it may bring. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.