Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2–4
Joy is a state of mind, not merely a feeling. Joy is peaceful confidence in knowing God’s good and perfect will is being carried out as the result of your trials. I know from experience that this can be hard to accept.
But James teaches us that trials produce steadfastness (endurance), which, in turn, produces spiritual strength and growth. God’s desire for his children is that they become “perfect and complete,” words which refer to spiritual maturity and fruitfulness. For this reason, you can experience joy in the midst of trials—and alongside grief—when you count these promises to be true as you walk through your valley of suffering.
Now, to “count it all joy” does not refer to being happy about the trial itself. Nor does it take away your permission to grieve. James is not saying, “No matter how painful your loss is, you need to just put on a happy face. Pretend, if you have to. Don’t let anyone see how much you hurt.” No! True joy is not a spiritual façade. What, then, does James mean?
Obeying a Divine Command
“Count it all joy” is a divine command which calls for a certain attitude of mind. Everyone understands having joy when a trial is over, but that’s not what is on James’s mind. It is while you suffer that you must choose the path of joy. It is Jesus himself who provides the example we need. The Epistle to the Hebrews calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1–2, emphasis added).
“James is not encouraging you to deny the reality of your sorrow. Trials are hard. Loss hurts. Life is sometimes very painful. But the “testing of your faith” is designed for your growth—not for your failure—in order to produce endurance. Steadfastness is a compound word meaning to stay, abide, or remain. It pictures someone carrying a heavy load for a long time. But endurance (as virtuous as it is) is not even God’s ultimate goal. His bigger purpose is that steadfastness will have “its full effect” by moving you toward completion, that is, maturity in Christ (Romans 8:28–29).
When, by God’s grace, you joyfully consider his larger purpose to conform you to be more like Jesus, the Holy Spirit develops the inner strength of your faith. On the other side of your pain, then, you will one day be able to say with humble confidence, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).”
Joy is Coming
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.Psalm 30:5
Joy is supernatural. It comes from God. Joy is bestowed from above. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in you, it becomes a reservoir within. It was joy, Ezra assured the discouraged people, that would rejuvenate their inner persons as they reestablished the city of God: “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). In a similar way, it was joy in the Lord that sustained the apostle’s bruised spirit while he was imprisoned (Philippians 1:18–20). And it is joy emerging from the words of God, Jesus says, that will “be in you” so that “your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).
Joy is a gift from God. It is our hope when all earthly hopes have died, the energy of the living God infused within us after those long, dark nights of the soul. It is the sturdy garment that clothes us after God turns our “mourning into dancing,” and our rough sackcloth has been laid aside in order to be clothed “in gladness” (Psalm 30:11).
David could say this from experience. By writing Psalm 30, he revealed an important reality: Restoration of joy is a direct result of conscious praise. The psalm begins and ends with bookends of praise. In the first verse, David says, “I will extol you, O Lord.” In the last verse, verse 12, he says, “I will give thanks to you forever!” Between these bookends of praise is personal testimony about the trials and temptations which robbed David of his joy.
Shifting Our Thinking
David’s newfound joy was the by-product of a shift in his thinking from himself to God. Joy is from God, yes. But it is mediated to us through God-centered faith and thinking. David ultimately triumphed in joy—and through joy, because he pledged to live a life of praise. He is a man who chose to turn away from self-centered focus to God-centered worship. His feelings were controlled by his knowledge of God, not the other way around.
Remember this: Sorrow is only one part of your life experience in this fallen world. When God is your God, then your mourning is not permanent. It is only “for the night.” “But joy comes with the morning.” Joy is the sunrise that follows night, the spring which follows winter. You may still be living in that night of weeping, and I am truly sorry. But joy is coming. You must believe it. God will find a way to restore your joy. It may not be the way you presently think or want. But when your joy is restored, it will be a deeper, more mature joy than you had before. Joy is coming. Look for it!
Excerpted from A Small Book for the Hurting Heart: Meditations on Loss, Grief, and Healing ©2020 by Paul Tautges. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
A SMALL BOOK FOR THE HURTING HEART
Grief may threaten to overtake us or destroy our joy. In this powerful devotional book, men and women will see Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, who is well-acquainted with grief and sadness.