“Count it all joy.” (James 1:2, NKJV)
How many of us have not experienced walking on air at the reception of good news in one moment only to find ourselves plummeting to have our hopes dashed in the next? Our joy can seem so fickle when subject to the whim of circumstance.
But is it joy we are experiencing? It certainly feels like it. Our spirits soar. Our hearts race. Our countenance beams. No doubt euphoria does fall under the semantic reaches of joy, but the joy God has for us has a different character. The high of elation better belongs to froth that wells up only to dissipate rather than the enduring joy of substance that is the fruit of the Spirit.
Often what we think of as joy is circumstance-dependent. In that sense, joy is more like the flame that feeds on the tinder of pleasant situations. Joy waxes and wanes in line with the excitement tied to our favorite team leading or losing.
The Scriptures, however, direct us to a different source of joy. That source is God Himself, the God who does not change like shifting shadows. The joy of the Lord becomes our strength in pilgrimage, whatever that pilgrimage may hold.
James, writing to believers undergoing persecution, begins his letter on a note that runs counter to a popular conception of joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2, ESV).
What odd and unreasonable counsel! Trials should evoke a negative response, in the order of dejection or despair. That would be true if joy were contingent on the circumstance. But it’s not. Joy taps into the purpose of our sovereign Father that irrigates the trial through underground streams apparent to lively faith.
James reminds us that the trials we encounter can be of various kinds. What sort of trial are you experiencing right now? A strained or broken relationship? A health crisis? Financial woes? A stubborn sin that enslaves you? Whatever the trial that weighs you down, you can know the joy of the Lord because as a believer your joy is in the Lord your God.
James instructs us to count it all joy. In so doing, he calls us to form an opinion, to take a position. We need to hear this because our reflex in the face of trials is to grumble and complain. We may fall into self-pity or at least resign ourselves to weather the storm. But our God bids us to take hold of joy.
Not only are we to count it joy, we are to count it all joy. There is a sense in which the negativity that typically accompanies trials is to be overwhelmed and overcome with joy. Joy is to become a governor of the whole.
Why? Is the Christian so masochistic that we are to relish deprivation, abuse, and pain? James pins our joy to the insight of wisdom: “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” (James 1:3–4, ESV). Knowing joy in the midst of trial is contingent on our belief that the purpose of our God accompanies the trial. Joy brings expectation and even eagerness to the trial because it sees the adversity as a workstation of God’s sanctifying grace.
Our Lord Jesus Himself provides an example. Surely, He did not relish the pain of the cross. For Him that pain was not merely physical anguish; it was existential angst that we could not possibly fathom. Yet we are told that He “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). The joy was not in the pain but in the purpose, a purpose that submitted to the Father’s will and that secured His Bride, the church.
We might not know the meaning of the trial in which we find ourselves, but we know there is a meaning. And in that meaning we experience the contentment and expectation of joy because we know the meaning is governed by our God and Father.
- What is the difference between the froth of joy and the fruit of joy in the Lord?
- How does Jesus provide an example of joy?
Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name.
For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.