How about this for a counter-intuitive perspective: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Truth be told, for a long time I considered this a simply an overly optimistic, pat you on the back, pretend there’s really no problem, “shape up and quit complaining” sort of statement from the Apostle. But no, it’s a real command, a call to have joy in the midst of painful circumstances. Talk about counter-intuitive!
Folks, isn’t it tempting, when we are in pain, to begin to feel sorry for ourselves? “Lord, I have been obeying you and following you and praying my heart out, and You give me this problem! Why, Lord? It’s not fair! I deserve better!” Trust me, I’ve been there many more times than I am willing to admit.
So how can we have joy in the midst of painful trials? Looking at some parallel texts helps provide the answer. In Romans 5:2-5, Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
And look at Philippians 3:10-11, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
We could find many other passages like these that encourage us to persevere in our suffering just like Christ did “who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross . . .” (Hebrews 12:2)
So, is it just to grit our teeth and hang on in our misery? No, we are to have “joy” and “rejoice” in our pain. How is that possible?
Well, it is both impossible and possible at the same time! On one hand, in my flesh, I cannot do it. But in my new nature through the Holy Spirit’s power, I can! Here are the steps I seek to take to turn from self-pity to joy and rejoicing:
1. I say “thank you” to God for the trial. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice ALWAYS, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances.” It doesn’t say, “Feel thankful.” Feelings will come later as we choose to obey. Why can we say thanks in ALL circumstances? Because Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible. All things WILL work together for good to them who love God and are called according to His purposes. And a big part of that good is that our loving Heavenly Father is using pain in our lives to make us more like Him. You know what the athletes say, “No pain, no gain!” If it’s true in sports, it’s totally true in our spiritual lives. I have a lot of pride, self-confidence, selfishness etc. that God needs to burn out of me in love. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
2. I put on the whole armor of God to fight against my real enemy Satan. I especially need that shield of faith to quench his fiery darts that he wants to come to my heart, especially that dart of discouragement. I meditate on scripture that offers encouragement to me. One that often helps me is His promise never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5) I also need to pray with my mind and with my spirit. And encourage others to pray for me as well. It’s always amazing to me how much better things go when I am bathed in prayer. What a powerhouse it is!
3. I find the grace to endure the trial today, and choosing not to worry about tomorrow. I keep my eyes on Him who went through much worse of a trial out of love to purchase us with His blood from Satan’s dominion. Day by day, I make it and, in the words of C.S. Lewis, am often “surprised by joy” as I trust Him and feel His manifest presence comforting, leading, guiding and loving me.