Winter arrived late this year. But inevitably, the temperature plunged and light snow began to fall. After the weather cleared, knowing it might be the last for some time, we headed out for a walk through our park. I was struck by the hardiness of the ornamental cabbage that had been carefully planted by town gardeners. The ornamentals seemed to smile up at me in spite of the nippy temperature.
They reminded me of the cheerful countenance of those who endure severe trials. Scripture exhorts us to face difficulties with patience and good cheer. However, I’ve often had to rebuke myself for complaining about some difficulty or trial. A sleepless night throws me into a bad mood. Creaky joints make me grumpy. And yet I see so many saints who endure cancer or some debilitating illness or loss with confidence and faith. Currently, our church lists nine people dealing with sickness or surgery plus another five dealing with cancer.
How could James urge us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). That seems so unnatural, so impossible. How can we wring joy out of pain, loss, or persecution? This kind of joy is not happiness which depends on circumstances or some kind of masochistic delight in pain.
James explains how this impossible attitude is possible in the following verses. “Consider it joy…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” (James 1:2-4). The joy comes from knowing that the trial is not wasted but contributes to character development. We are urged to embrace a settled assurance that “all things work together for good”.
Becoming a cheerful person in the face of tribulation takes time and grace. I doubt if Paul enjoyed his thorn in the flesh any more than he did being shipwrecked or beaten. He pleaded with the Lord three times to take away his thorn. God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Learning about the sufficiency of grace enabled Paul to gladly accept his weaknesses so that Christ might be glorified in his character development.
Finding joy in adversity require a revolutionary change in what we value in life. As Paul teaches in Romans five, “We rejoice in our sufferings BECAUSE we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:3-5). Joy in suffering must bubble up from a hopeful, love-filled heart.
When we value these qualities that are elsewhere called, the fruit of the Spirit, more than we value pleasant circumstances, good health, and freedom from trouble, then we have a head start on becoming cheerful in trials. This revolution in thinking and values takes place in the heart. Hopeful, patient people are usually joyful people.
Sadly, too often I allow my feelings and circumstances to dictate my attitude. Not good. It shows I have a long way to go on this journey to heaven.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine Job smiling during his excruciating trial. God doesn’t expect us to be hypocritically cheerful. Since Jesus knew pain, He understands if sometimes all we can do is grimace and weep. But, praise God, He helps us to become more joyful and less grumpy and complaining.
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