“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). Trials test how we stand in our faith before God and how we conduct ourselves before others while we are in the midst of suffering. The Christian’s response to trial must be distinct from that of an unbeliever. James writes, “Consider it all joy.” This is a command that calls for a certain attitude, a certain mindset. In other words, this is not an option. James is not saying, “Well, if you want to consider it joy when you suffer then that is great, but if you want to complain your life away instead then that is fine too.” No, that is not what he says. Instead he makes it clear that it is our duty as believers to pursue an attitude of joy in the midst of trials. We all can understand having joy when a trial is over, but that is not what is on James’s mind. It is while we are suffering that we must choose to consider it all joy.
“All joy” refers not to joy in the trial itself, but to something in the mind of the believer that produces a joyful perspective. This joy is in knowing that God’s good and perfect will is sure to be carried out as a result of this trial. James is not saying to us, “Now, no matter how painful your suffering is, just put on a happy face. Pretend. Don’t let anyone know that you are really hurting.” True joy is not a spiritual facade.
For example, when we first learned that our daughter Kayte was born deaf we did not count the trial itself as joy. It was heart-wrenching to accept that she would never hear us tell her how much we love her. But we still counted that trial as joy because we chose to think on what we knew to be true of God. We intentionally found fuel for joy from the knowledge that God is sovereign, wise, and good; and from knowing that He never does anything without a good purpose. God declares that He creates some people deaf (Exod. 4:11). So we know that God created our daughter deaf on purpose for His purpose. Therefore, who are we to not be joyful in the exercise of His sovereignty? Who are we to not recognize that He has a good and perfect will that He is working out for His glory? (By the way, through God’s gracious providence she now hears due to the wonder of cochlear implants).
Again, let me make it clear, James is not talking about joy in the trial itself, but joy in something greater—joy in God. James is not encouraging us to live in denial. Trials are hard. Trials do hurt, but the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). We can and must rejoice in all circumstances because we know that God is somehow working in, behind, and through our trials in order to strengthen our faith and accomplish His purpose. Jesus teaches in Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” This does not mean we leap for joy because some people hate us, but rather our heart leaps because there is a reward God promises to those who love Him more then they love the world.
Biblical joy does not equal happiness. We can be joyful without being happy. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances, but joy is not. Joy rises above circumstances. Joy is an inner resolve to give God glory no matter what happens in our lives. For example, the Apostle Paul was in prison for his faith when he wrote to the Philippian believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Was Paul always happy in prison? I don’t think so. He tells us that he struggled to learn to be content in any and every circumstance (Phil. 4:11). No matter what the circumstance we can have joy because joy comes from the Lord. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). This means that our life can feel like total chaos on the outside while at the same time we can experience peace within because the Holy Spirit is the producer of joy.
Recommended Reading: HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials