Sarah couldn’t believe what her pastor said in church on Sunday. He was teaching from the book of James and she thought, “You want me to do what in my trials? Count it all joy? Impossible.” If you’re anything like Sarah, joy is the last thing you think is possible when you’re right in the midst of suffering and sudden difficulty. You frequently find yourself asking, “Why is this happening to me? Why now? Has God abandoned me?” In times of trials, joy can seem so out of reach. So how are Christians supposed to count it all joy when they face various trials? Let me give you four biblical ways of looking at trials that can help.
Drills and wisdom
James goes on to explain that Christians can face the various trials of life with joy because they know something. They know that the trial is not meaningless. He says, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). An attitude of joy is impossible if someone thinks that the pain or trial is pointless. But James teaches the opposite. The pain is never pointless. Rather, God is using the trial to make you into someone great. Imagine a good coach who must put his players through grueling conditioning drills during practice. Why does he do that? Because he doesn’t like them? Because he’s out to get them? No, far from it. The drills are designed to prepare the players for what’s ahead and make them into something great. Like the purpose of drills in practice, joy in trials comes by knowing what God is up to. But sometimes that’s extremely hard. So what do you do? A Christian must go to God and ask him for wisdom. So imagine that one of the players comes up to the coach and asks, “Why all these drills? What’s the point of putting me through this?” Does this player really want to know why, or does he just want to get out of doing the drills? That’s what makes all the difference. James says, if you really want to know why you’re going through the trial, if you really want to know, then God will give you wisdom to understand why every single time. You may not understand everything, but you will understand enough to experience joy. It takes wisdom to live with joy. But Christians must not go to God and ask him why just to get out of the drills, because it is the drills that are designed to make them into something great.
Silver and gold
Another biblical image is that of the refiner sitting by the fire to purify silver and gold. In the Bible, God is frequently referred to as the Refiner. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Malachi 3:3). In order to make the raw elements of silver and gold into something truly great, they must be placed in the refiner’s fire. But every refiner knows that the fire cannot be too hot or too cold. And the silver and gold cannot be in the fire for too short of a time or too long of a time. What the Bible is teaching is that your trials are that perfectly designed fire, and God is the perfect Refiner who does not leave you, but is very near. God has not abandoned you. He sits close by knowing just how hot the trial must be, and just how long you need to experience the trial to be purified and brought out of it better than before. God is perfectly refining every Christian, removing the dross of unbelief, impatience, pride, greed, selfishness and all sorts of other remains from the old self through the fiery trials of life.
Fire and water
This is an image that comes up a lot in the Bible. For example, in Numbers 31, God commanded his people that when any spoil was taken from the enemy army in war, before it could enter into the Israelite camp, it had to go through fire and water. It had to be cleansed and purified before it could be brought into the holy camp of God. How does this relate to your trials? Well, Christ is the true Israel, and he is the true Warrior King who has conquered his enemy and redeemed every Christian as his spoil. Christians are Christ’s treasure, his ransomed vessels from the kingdom of darkness, yet before they enter into the heavenly camp of abundance and holiness, they must be cleansed. The dross and impurities must be taken away. Christ does this by taking you through the fiery trials of life and by cleansing you with the water of his word.
Admission and challenges
Another way to look at the trials of life is this – If you received an admissions letter from the Navy Seals, you wouldn’t think, “Oh boy, this is going to be easy stuff.” No, you would expect the admission to bring challenges. You would expect it to be tough. You would expect the process of making you into somebody great to make you uncomfortable. You would think, “This is going to be hard. This is going to involve change, but this is all going to be worth it.” That’s what trials are in every Christian’s life. God is admitting you into another grade in the character-shaping college of Christ. God wants to change every child of his to be more like Jesus, and it may be uncomfortable, but it is always for your best. Like Sarah, joy can seem impossible in times of trial, but it’s not. The trials may bring weeping. They may bring sorrow. But in every Christian’s heart, in every trial, there can be an undercurrent of joy running through it all, because God is love and what God is up to is always for your good and his glory.