It is a remarkable and shocking verse: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2-4). Sounds utterly impossible in a world that worships comfort, ease, and pleasure. Why then would God want his people to rejoice when pain comes into their lives?
James uses the broad and general phrase, “Trials of various kind.” This includes everything from persecution to an ingrown toenail. Be joyful when people mock your faith, and be joyful when you can barely walk because your toe is swollen and red.
It also includes financial struggles. Be happy and full of joy when you are running short and have to decide which bill not to pay this month. It includes relationship problems. Count it all joy when you and your spouse are arguing over how to parent your children. It includes car trouble. Be happy when you get a flat or when you have to buy a new radiator.
The list is endless, and James instructs us to rejoice in each and every trial of life we face. Boy, oh boy, that is a tough admonition! It is completely counter culture, since the world tells us the trials of life are never good, and we must sadly endure a few, but hopefully not too many. But God says (through James) that we should find great joy in them!
Why Would God Command the Seemingly Impossible?
The answer lies in the next verses:
James 1:2-4 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.
The trials we face function in our lives to build endurance in our faith. Put simply, they help us believe God’s promises more deeply. The stress of trials builds the muscles of our faith.
Many of you probably work out. I do, a little, but you can’t tell. I must be doing something wrong. Anyway, when we work out, we are placing our muscles under deep strain and distress. Our muscles hate us for it. They do not like the trials of push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. Our muscles ask, “Why are you doing this to us? Do you hate us?” The muscles even seek revenge, especially the next day when they are so sore you can’t move. But we know the stress of working out builds our endurance and strengthens the muscles. No pain, no gain.
This is why James says, “Count it all joy.” When you can’t pay that bill, rejoice! The muscles of your faith are getting a work out! Instead of fretting and worrying, rejoice in the provision and promises of God. When you are diagnosed with a painful or even life-threatening disease, rejoice! God is training you to believe him with greater endurance. It is a work out to be sure, and there is great pain involved in the process, but the end result is the wonder of close intimacy with Christ.
What Daniel Son Learned from Mr. Miyagi
James also says that your endurance will eventually come into full bloom (it will have its “full effect”). When this happen, he says, you will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” In other words, God will bring you into a state of full sanctification. So rejoice in your trials! Those trials are turning you into a fit citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
In the original Karate Kid movie (its still the best!), Daniel learned a similar lesson. He sought to be a karate master and asked Mr. Miyagi to help him achieve that goal. Miyagi agreed, but instructed Daniel that he had to trust him with no questions asked. When Daniel agreed, Miyagi commanded him to wash all of his cars and wax them. Daniel attempted to argue, but was quickly reminded that he had to trust Miyagi.
After the cars, Miyagi had Daniel sand his extensive backyard boardwalk. Then he had Daniel paint his long fence – both sides. Then, he had to paint Miyagi’s house. By the time all of this was done, Daniel’s faith in Miyagi was waning severely. He did not understand why he was required to endure all of these trials and difficulties. What did washing cars and painting fences have to do with karate anyway?
Finally, Miyagi demonstrated to Daniel that all his trials were turning him into a karate master, and he didn’t even realize it. His waxing, sanding, and painting were training his muscles to block punches and kicks. The repetitious motions were painful, but were strengthening Daniel to be quick and strong. Without the struggles, Daniel would never have achieved his dream!
In so many ways, those movie scenes function as a beautiful metaphor of the Christian life. James says count it all joy when we face various trials, because whether we realize it or not, these trials are training us to be sanctified citizens in God’s kingdom. The pain we face in this life is building our endurance and our faith so that we come to fully trust God in all circumstances. Difficult as it may be, God is forming us through our hardships.
It would be one thing if the Bible merely taught, “Endure trials, and God will eventually get you through them.” It does teach this, but here in James, it goes one step further. Don’t just endure, but rejoice and be glad in those trials.
Now Do It
Just as a challenge, think of one major area of struggle in your life right now. Be specific. Now, with God’s help, see if you can change your attitude about that trial from one of sorrow to joy. If you can, and if you can do the same thing with all your trials, you will begin to see the world with a whole new set of eyes! What a blessing! God is training you to be perfect and complete.
If you read this far, you also may be interested in hearing my Mother’s Day sermon this year (The Joyful Trials of Motherhood), where I took this text and these ideas and applied them to the specific difficulties of motherhood.