It seems as though everywhere I look these days, I see hurt, pain, and sadness. The headlines on the news seem to be stuck on a negative loop, the messages on my social media feeds seem to repeat the same frustrations, and I see signs of brokenness all around me.
I have dear friends grieving the end of a marriage, others wrestling with the lack of children to add to their family, and loved ones battling challenging health circumstances. Hurricanes are raging and leaving whole cities underwater, our nation feels restless and uneasy, and grief just seems to be around every corner.
Whether you’re in a season of mourning, wrestling, and fighting or not, you surely know what it’s like to be in the thick of things like that.
In Mike Phay’s recent For the Church article “It’s OK to Be Sad,” he calls out how ridiculous statements like James 1:2 can be in the middle of the struggle: “Count it all joy,” the verse reads, “when you meet trials of various kinds…”
Count it all joy?
When my home is underwater and I’m in need of rescue? When my husband doesn’t want what I want for our family? When I’ve buried my beloved grandparent? When nothing feels stable or sure anymore? When I’m all too familiar with “trials of various kinds?”
Count that joy?
“‘Count it all joy’ seems like a slap in the face when all that you’re really asking for is the easy way out, the smooth and happy, suffering-lite, cancer and abandonment and barrenness and shame and conflict-free version of life,” Phay writes.
What’s helpful to realize here is that James is not equating joy to happiness in this verse. He isn’t asking us to plaster on a bright smile and laugh it all off, but instead to anchor ourselves to God and find a deeper, truer level of joy through his strength.
“Those who understand, recognize, and endure trials, rather than seeking to avoid or escape them, are the only ones who will be able to experience true joy. Joy, the kind that James is speaking of here, requires trials,” says Phay.
You aren’t alone in wishing the trials and struggles would pass you by -- even Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42 asking for God to take the cup of suffering from him. The important thing to remember was that he followed that prayerful request with the words “Thy will be done,” surrendering his plans to the plans of his Father.
Jesus knew his path would be brutal and painful-- he didn’t minimize or try to ignore that. Yet he faithfully followed the call of God through to the very end despite every trial along the way, giving us a beautiful example of faithfulness in the hard times.
Even though James commands that we count all things as joy, he isn’t saying that things won’t be hard, or that we shouldn’t truly be sad when they are.
“The Scriptures very clearly call us to weep for things,” says Phay. “They give us room to mourn and to lament. The world is not as it should be.”
When you are in the middle of the valleys in life, feeling the weight of all that is broken and not right, you absolutely should weep and mourn and lament. Reading through the Psalms, we see time and time again that followers of the Lord cried out to him in their grief, and that the Lord heard them and responded. The same is true of us today.
“Instead of encouraging you to do the things we are naturally prone to do - avoiding or escaping suffering - I’m encouraging you to enter in and to walk with people in their pain,” says Phay. “Why? Because that’s what Jesus did. And therein lies the really Good News, and real joy.”
Whatever trial you are going through today, know that Jesus gives you his strength when you feel weak, and that true joy can be found in him despite your circumstances. Cling to him as you walk through the valley, and hold on to hope that the next mountaintop will surely come soon.
Like Nehemiah 8:10 says, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”
Photo credit: Unsplash
Publication date: August 30, 2017
Rachel Dawson is the design editor for Crosswalk.com.