The Joy of Trials


It’s good to know where to go for solace when you desperately need it. More than once, challenging circumstances have driven me to the first few verses of the epistle of James, where God has met me with fresh perspective and encouragement. Lately, I’ve been ruminating on these verses once again.

The original recipients of James’s letter were Christians scattered by persecution. They knew what it was like to leave their home, their job, and their social network—all at once. While I know nothing of the kind of persecution those early believers experienced, I do know something of the stress of leaving home, job, and social network to step into an unknown future. We’re about to do this again, and that’s what has drawn me back to James’s advice. Sooner or later, all of us who follow Christ are going to need to hear this. James says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
— James 1:2-4

James could have advised us to be joyful despite our circumstances—to rise above the negative messages that get in the way of reaching our goals. Had James done this, his voice would easily have gotten lost in the sea of advice so prevalent in our culture, as evidenced in so many commencement speeches this time of year. But James is offering something altogether different.

What God holds out to us is not joy despite our trials but joy because of them.

It sounds like a typo, but it’s not. I checked.

James is saying that the reason we should consider our difficult circumstances to be sheer joy is that they provide an opportunity to stretch our faith in God which, in turn, expands our capacity to trust him even more. Hard times create the conditions where faith and perseverance can flourish. And when that happens we start to become spiritually mature. It’s a process that takes time. But stick with it and eventually you’ll start to resemble Jesus more and more. You’ll be a complete, fully formed disciple of Jesus who exhibits all of the virtues he exhibited. Imagine how wise and loving and courageous you would be!  

This perspective on difficult circumstances jars us out of our self-pity and points us to something deeper, more worthwhile, more enduring. It provides a glimpse of who we were meant to be when we’re all grown up. The thought of it emboldens us to embrace with joy the difficult circumstances required to get us there.

Do your work, perseverance. Do your work.