How can I find joy in the midst of trials?
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is the very first thing James writes in his letter after his salutation. Why?
Because of its import. Many Christians think once they’ve made that decision for Christ that everything will fall into place and life will be that proverbial bowl of cherries. And when trials and tough times come upon them or continue, they begin to question, “why?” Wondering how they could possibly endure horrible circumstances and consider it joy.
Peter also tackles this subject of joy through trials. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).
In both of these passages, we see the instruction of what we should do. ‘Consider it pure joy…’ ‘In this you greatly rejoice…’ Why? Because trials make us stronger. The James passage clearly states that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. And the Peter passage states that our faith, which is priceless, will be proved genuine and result in praise to God. But how? How can we find joy in the midst of all the junk, hardships, and painful circumstances?
First, we need to understand that the joy the world gives is not the same as the joy the Spirit gives. Worldly joy or happiness comes and goes as often as waves hitting the shore. It isn’t something you can cling to when you’ve lost a loved one or are facing bankruptcy. The Spirit’s joy or happiness, on the other hand, can stay with you for the long haul. For the believer, the fruit of the Spirit, including joy, is like a bottomless well of water—there’s always an abundant supply. Even in the darkest days, when sadness, grief, and loss may threaten to overwhelm you, God’s joy is there.
Second, we need to understand that God’s joy cannot be taken away. Oh, you might think that it’s gone—that the hands of misfortune have snatched it from you—but it’s not. As believers, we are promised the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. We are promised His joy. Just as our salvation is assured through Jesus’ one-time sacrifice for all. Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Other examples, Acts 13:52, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 16:34, “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”
Third, we need to stop wallowing, whining, and complaining and grab onto God’s joy. Just like salvation, joy is a free and perfect gift from Him, and we must reach out and accept that gift. Grab onto it. Like a lifeline. Choose joy. Over bitterness, anger, and sorrow. Make a decision to choose joy every day. No matter what. Look at these great examples in Scripture: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3). “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:34). And the best illustration of all, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
All through Scripture we see the persecution of the church, the trials and hardships that believers have faced. The challenge then is to truly learn how to consider each trial joy.
This topic is very near and dear to my heart because it is a lesson I’m relearning each and every day. My daughter has a rare nerve disorder, she’s had brain surgery, and we’ve faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, mountains of medical bills, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. But you know what I have discovered? God’s joy really is there. You can consider each trial joy, you can greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory even when you feel like you are face-first in the mud puddle. You can endure whatever circumstances are making you quake in your boots right now. If you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have all you need.
Grab onto God’s joy.