QUESTION:  I was reading the first chapter of James the other day and just got stuck on how to actually be joyful in the midst of trials – like an extended season of singleness. My head knows lots on this subject, but it’s SO hard to transfer that to my heart. So what practical ways have you found to have your heart count all trials as joy?

ANSWER:  I've been pondering this question for the past week, and in doing so, have found it to be God's sovereign timing that the question was sent to me when it was. During this same time, I've attended a wedding, rejoiced with friends who just entered a courtship, was told the happy news of another couple's pregnancy, heard the results of a sonogram of another pregnant woman, and congratulated two friends on their first wedding anniversaries. In other words, lots of opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice, despite my own unfulfilled desires in those same areas.

Conversely, I have also been praying for those with serious illnesses, threats of job loss, financial needs, and family crises from exposed sin. In both, I am only entering in these situations vicariously. In one set of circumstances, I may be tempted to covet blessings. In another set of circumstances, I may be tempted to fear similar trials. Both perspectives are limited by my self-centered view – unless I apply myself to the instruction found in the first chapter of the book of James. Verses 2 through 12 offer this rich supply of instruction:

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. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2-12)

The Testing of Faith

In his study Bible, Dr. John MacArthur provides a number of rich insights into this passage. He says that the Greek word that is translated "consider" in the NASB or "count" in the ESV may also be translated as "evaluate." I take this to mean that we are not to be passive or fatalistic in the way we view our circumstances, but rather to take on an analytical view, akin to a financial accounting, as we examine the things that cause us heartaches. Considering, counting, evaluating – these are verbs that require us to look at an object or a circumstance from many perspectives. Because the natural human response to trials is not to rejoice, the believer therefore must make a conscious commitment to face them with joy. And the fact that joy that comes from getting a new perspective on life is so patently true that it has become a film and novel cliche.

But are your present circumstances sufficient to be deemed a trial? Trials come in various forms but for the same purpose. As Dr. MacArthur writes: "The Greek word [for trials] connotes trouble, or something breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy and happiness in someone's life. The verb form of this word means 'to put someone or something to the test,' with the purpose of discovering that person's nature or that thing's quality. God brings such tests to prove – and increase – the strength and quality of one's faith and to demonstrate its validity (vv. 2-12). Every trial becomes a test of faith designed to strengthen: if the believer fails the test by wrongly responding, that test then becomes a temptation, or a solicitation to evil."