Singles Q&A: How to Count It All Joy
- Wednesday, June 21, 2006
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, ESV)
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."
What a wonderful summary! So if every trial becomes a test of faith designed to strengthen us, we come back to the original question I recently received. What are some practical steps can we take to count present trials as joy?
I think the goal of what God is doing is found in verse three and the tool we need is found in verse five. If we simply view trials as something to grit our teeth about and endure, we lack the vision for what God says He is accomplishing. Verse three says trials are producing something of enduring value in us. I like the NAS translation of verse three – "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." God has an end result in mind with this testing. It is to display the glories of His grace in our lives and the transforming effect in our characters. We need to be changed, and trials are a primary means God uses to achieve this. Again, Dr. MacArthur has a succinct comment: "The testing of faith drives believers to deeper communion and greater trust in Christ – qualities that in turn produce a stable, godly, and righteous character."
The Promise of Wisdom
Therefore, we need to ponder the goal and not the trial itself. Thinking too much about the trial makes it more significant than it is. We need to train our thoughts away from those anxieties and doubts, and instead meditate upon the steadfast virtues God is cultivating in us at the present time. The key is to ask God for His wisdom in the midst of trials. When we encounter loss or difficulty, we always view it through our own self-centered perspective. That's our default setting. But God says to ask Him for His understanding, which He promises to give generously, so that we can instead see our circumstances through a divine perspective.
So the practical application is to curb the complaining and instead offer up thanks to God. Thanks for the grace He promises to sustain us, thanks for the change in our characters that brings glory to Him, thanks for the blessings He's bestowed on others that is evidence He is still at work among us, thanks for the ways we can be used to encourage those facing loss of some kind, thanks for His commitment to never leave nor forsake us. It is the practical retraining of our thoughts and words that allows us to pick up something we consider a deficit and re-evaluate it in light of God's Word and therefore pronounce gratitude for it.
In terms specifically of extended, unwanted singleness, this means offering thanks to God for His wisdom and grace to be others-focused as we attend another wedding or join in celebrating a birth – and not doubting that He will provide it once again (v. 6). It means to evaluate the relationships of others not as a deficit of blessings for us, but an evidence of God's ongoing faithfulness to His children. It means evaluating our words as we speak of this season and recognizing the ongoing grumbling that breeds discontent, not joy. It means offering thanks in our prayers that these trials keep us from being content on earth and therefore disinterested in what God's Kingdom offers us. It means accepting social invitations that may make us feel awkward, and trusting God that steadfastness and endurance are being produced in us in this very event as we stand there as solo trophies of God's grace. It means looking toward God to supply the joy we've always expected to derive from our circumstances, recognizing that each decision we make here will reap something far more significant in eternity.
That long-range view, above the battles of daily life, is the perspective that will bring a smile to our faces.
Carolyn McCulley works for Sovereign Grace Ministries in church and ministry relations. She is also an author ("Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred") and blogger (solofemininity.blogs.com). Carolyn is also a member of Covenant Life Church where one of her favorite ministries is the single women's discipleship program. She highly recommends the resources for singles from the New Attitude conference and blog.
Your questions answered! Carolyn will periodically answer Crosswalk.com reader questions in her Singles Q&A columns. While we can't guarantee that each question will be answered, we do hope to hear from you! Please send your questions regarding singleness and related topics to Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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