"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
For a long time I have been trying to get my mind around this admonition to "consider it joy" when you suffer. I don't think I am there yet. What does that mean? What is required to do that?
I am not sure I have the best answers or the final answer but here is what I found from the limited amount of suffering I have done.
Joy in suffering comes from the confidence that God is in control of your life and your trials. Knowing that can result in:
The Joy of His Provision. When life is easy and things are good you can tend to focus on all the things you want God to do for you and all the things you need from Him. Or, you tend to get lost in the pursuit and enjoyment of those things. But when you are suffering and life is tough it tends to focus you on the things that God has already done. Rather that chasing what you think you want it can cause you to cherish what you already have in Him. He has provided you with so much! There REALLY is benefit in counting your blessings.
The Joy of His Promises. We have the confidence of His promises precisely because of His provision. But He has promised that no tests or trials will befall us except by His permission, so if we are in difficult circumstances it is because He knows we can handle it. He has also promised that with the testing He will provide a way to escape it. You can have confidence about what He will do in the future because of what He has done in the past!
The Joy of His Presence. Pain is intensified when we have to experience it alone. There is comfort in knowing that someone else cares enough to be there with us and for us. Often it is not about the things they say or even the things they do, it is just the fact that they are there and it helps. God is always there. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has identified Himself as a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the one who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.
The Joy of His Purpose. As hard as it is to suffer, it helps to know that our pain will bring us some gain. Pain is a terrible thing to waste and yet I deal with people all the time who repeat the same mistakes and bear the same hurts and never learn. Their pain only drives them deeper into despair. James promises us that when we walk in the wisdom of God our pain will work for our development. You will work overtime in order to have a better vacation. You will drive that clunker an extra six months in order to save for the new truck. Suffering can be worth it when there is a pay off. When you suffer for Jesus - there is a payoff!
The Joy of His Price. Early in life I was taught the value of hard work. My parents were not able to give me the things I wanted beyond my basic needs. So as soon as I was able I began mowing lawns and baling hay and other odd jobs to earn money for the ball glove I wanted or the bicycle or to be able to go to the county fair. I didn't like pushing a mower on a scorching hot day or standing on a hay wagon tossing 50 lb. bales in 90 degree weather. But the sense of accomplishment was satisfying when I was able to get what I wanted. It was mine! I earned it! The pride of ownership was sweet! Joy comes in the midst of suffering when you realize it is costing you something to follow Jesus.
There is joy in suffering! When you do life with Jesus He brings joy to every part of your life! Even the pain works to your profit! If you are struggling under the load of trials and tests, cling to His provision, His promises, His presence, His purpose and pay His price. When you get to the place where it seems Jesus is all you have you will discover He is all you need!