Unexpected Joy

I am a typical middle child. I hate conflict. Whether the conflict is in my personal life or in the world, it overwhelms me. This usually plays out in one of two ways. 

First, I will try to avoid it. In my personal life this means I will often put up with disappointment or mistreatment in relationships to avoid conflict. When it comes to conflicts in the world, I will try to busy myself with other things (cleaning, projects, etc.) to avoid processing it. Obviously, these are not good ways to respond.

My second reaction to conflict is the desire to fix it. In personal conflict, I attempt to deploy my problem-solving and negotiating skills. With outside conflicts, I try to empathize with those involved, desiring to bridge the gap between egos, needs, and injustice; desperate for fairness and peace. This is usually a more helpful reaction, but not an easy one.  

Being a middle child can be exhausting. Especially when you try to resolve conflict in your own strength. And trials, like conflict, seem like anything but a gift.

However, that is exactly what James teaches us in James 1:2, 

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

My default response to conflict is not joy. Neither is my default response to various other trials, like pain, suffering and death. But that’s not what James is getting at here. We should grieve these things, just as Jesus Christ was grieved by them(John 11:33,35, Luke 12:50, Hebrews 4:15, Matthew 26:38). 

But, Jesus Christ didn’t remain in grief. Instead, as Hebrews 12:2 explains, “for the joy that was set before him (He) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

Jesus didn’t count the cross as joy. Jesus counted the promise of what would come because of the cross as joy. He looked to the joy of what the Father set before Him; ruling in all power and authority over all things, a people of His own (those who would come to faith in Him) and the defeat of all pain, suffering, and death (Revelation 21:4) .

We read on in Hebrews 12:3, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

This brings us to the next point James makes in verses 3-4,

“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.” 

The joy is not found in the trial itself. The joy is found in the steadfastness and maturity that comes through the trial. 

Not all trials we face are because of our own sin. Some surely are, but many are a result of the original sin (Genesis 3). God uses both to discipline (or teach) us, because He loves us. Hebrews 12 verses 5-6, & 11 explains,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives…For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

God uses trials to grab our attention and grow us. 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.”

In growing us, God matures our faith. And through mature faith, we are able to see beyond the here and now, look to our glorious Savior Jesus Christ, and rejoice with hope in our promised future with Him. That is where our true joy is found.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

This is good news. It means that no conflict, pain, suffering, or loss is wasted. Instead, God is working through these difficult things for our good, and His glory (Romans 8:28).

 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 6-8)

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