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 a feeling. Joy is peaceful confidence in knowing God’s good and perfect will is being carried out as the result of your suffering. This can be hard to accept, I know from experience. But listen to what James, the half-brother of Jesus teaches.
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, even alongside your 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 withdraw 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 are hurting.” No. True joy is not a spiritual facade. What, then, does James mean?
“Count it all joy” is a divine command which calls for a certain attitude of mind. In other words, it is a Christian duty to pursue joy “when you meet trials of various kinds.” 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.
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 this steadfastness will have “its full effect” by moving you toward completion, 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 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).
[Update 9/22/19 – This article is now a part of my book, ANXIETY: Knowing God’s Peace – 31-Day Devotional.]