In the epistle of James 1:2-3, we hear a rather peculiar bit of counsel: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
What? Count it joy when I meet trials? “Woah, James. Wait a minute. Trials?! Joy?!” When I contemplate trials that I have experienced, I return to either emotional events, such as the death of a loved one or very challenging experiences. On the physical and mental side of the equation, I remember my first week of two-a-day workouts (at the start of the fall football training) as VERY challenging. And my first month in the Navy was even worse. In both cases, every muscle in my body ached and my brain seemed to be running on 45 RPM with a 78 RPM record on the turntable. So, what’s a body to do when “life happens” and it includes not only the good, but also the bad… and even the ugly?
Back to James, who tells us to “count it all joy.” The Greek word for count is more accurately translated as evaluate. So, OK, let’s evaluate, think about it, let it percolate. Maybe this is like a phrase my grandmother would share during challenging times, “You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet!” Or the African Proverb, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” Or perhaps a bit of wisdom from the guy who once flew a kite in a lightning storm (i.e. Benjamin Franklin), “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
When I evaluate and look back on the painful, difficult times in my life’s journey, two things standout. First, I had to look outside of myself for solace and support and, for me, that meant turning to God. And—thanks be to God—He was always there for me. Second, in spite of all of my moaning and complaining about the situation, I experienced growth and new strength in mind, body and spirit.
Paul speaks of “joy” as one of the fruits of the spirit. I think what James and Paul were both saying is something along the lines of when we are in that right relationship with God, there is joy to be found no matter the situation. In Nehemiah 8:10, we hear these words of wisdom, “This day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
So, today, if you find yourself in the midst of one of life’s trials that seems to be dragging you under, take a deep breath, close your eyes and invite the God of the universe to be your strength—and your joy.