“Count It All Joy”…During Trials???

James 1:2 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” The words “joy” and “trials” are in the same sentence. These words don’t go together! Who experiences joy during trials? James even uses the word “all.” He does not say, “Count it some joy…” or “Find a little joy.” He says, “count it all joy.” As contrary as this sounds, it is a theme in Scripture to find joy in trials:

  • Romans 5:3 says, “We glory in tribulations.”
  • First Peter 1:6 says, “You greatly rejoice [when] you have been grieved by trials.”

“Count It All Joy” Doesn’t Mean “Feeling” Joy During Trials

You might be thinking: “The Bible doesn’t make sense, because I definitely do not feel joy when I am going through a trial!” The Bible makes complete sense, because it doesn’t say to “feel” joy during trials. Instead, it says “count it all joy,” because we cannot go by the way we feel. Trials make us feel sorrow and pain, so we must evaluate them independently of our feelings. The word for “count” is hēgeomai, and it means, “To lead, go before, rule, command, have authority over.” Here are a few places it’s used:

  • Matthew 2:6—“Bethlehem…out of you shall come a Ruler (hēgeomai) Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
  • Acts 7:10—“[Pharaoh] made [Moses] governor (hēgeomai) over Egypt.”
  • Hebrews 13:17—“Obey those who rule (hēgeomai) over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”

James tells us to “count it all joy,” because we must “govern” and “rule” over trials. We must control the way we view them, versus being controlled by our feelings. We must make a mental judgment about trials by considering the way God wants to use them in our lives. Then we can face them with joy.

God Brings Us into the Deep End

James 1:3 says, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” Sermons and books can teach the benefits of patience and how it is acquired, but only trials can build patience into a person’s life. Over the last few years, I have been taking my children to the pool to teach them to swim. I can talk about swimming with my children, tell them what it is like, or even show them videos of people swimming. If they are going to learn to swim though, at some point, they must get in the water. The same is true with patience. If we want to learn patience, at some point, we must be immersed in trials. Continue reading ““Count It All Joy”…During Trials???”

The Maturity Trials Produce in Our Lives

We have six children and our seventh is due May 2018. Our oldest child is ten, and while we have enjoyed our children at all ages, we still want to see them mature. When they make decisions that disappoint us, we feel disappointed with their maturity. Consider how tragic it would be if children remained immature throughout their lives.

God Is a Father and He Wants His Children to Mature

The author of Hebrews rebuked some of his readers who had been following Christ for some time, but had not matured. Hebrews 5:12 & 6:1 says:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.

Unlike these Hebrew readers, the believers in 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 had matured significantly:

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.

The Thessalonians were a wonderful church. Paul applauded their growth, which he attributed to the trials they experienced. This is one reason we can find joy in trials—we know they are producing patience that leads to maturity. First Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, [God] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” During trials we can tell ourselves, “This is strengthening me spiritually, giving me endurance, building my faith, and preparing me for the future.” Jerry Bridges said:

Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way.

Continue reading “The Maturity Trials Produce in Our Lives”

3 Reasons to Be Encouraged by God’s Discipline

When we experience God’s discipline because we sinned (versus suffering because of a trial) it hurts. Hebrews 12:11 says:

For the moment all chastening seems painful rather than pleasant.

Making it more difficult is the fact that God expects us to receive His discipline well. First Peter 2:20a says:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?

God expects us to humbly accept His discipline the way parents expect their children to receive discipline without kicking and screaming. This can be very difficult! Fortunately, the author  of Hebrews provides a number of reasons believers can still  be encouraged by God’s discipline.

1. God’s Discipline Means You Are His Child

Hebrews 12:6–8 records:

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

When we sin and God disciplines us, we can be encouraged that He does so because He loves us. We want to be confident in our salvation, and experiencing discipline allows us to say, “God is my Father. I am His child.” When I see other people’s children misbehaving, I do not discipline them because they are not my children. God acts similarly toward unbelievers. Sometimes people sin and it looks like “they are getting away with it.” Either God is giving them time to repent, or they are not His children.

2. God’s Discipline Means You Are in His Hands

Prior to pastoring, I taught elementary school for almost ten years. When students disobeyed, I regularly found myself wondering what the appropriate punishment would be—detention, suspension, time out, or call parents? Circumstances make things even more complicated. What is the punishment for a student who lies once, versus a student who demonstrates a pattern of deceitfulness? What about a student who mistreated a student for no reason, versus a student who acts out when provoked? Continue reading “3 Reasons to Be Encouraged by God’s Discipline”

The Need to Prepare for Trials

Since we can expect trials, we must prepare for them.

An Old Testament Example that Encourages us to Prepare for Trials

Unfortunately, sometimes people read the Old Testament and think, “What does this have to do with me? How can I learn from people whose lives are so different from mine?” The New Testament states the Old Testament provides us with examples:

  • Romans 15:4a—“For whatever things were written [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11a—“Now all these things happened to [the Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.”

Church Age believers can learn from Old Testament accounts. Often, they provide a backdrop for New Testament instruction.

Prepare for Trials During Times of Peace

Asa was one of the  good kings in the Old Testament, and he reveals how (and when) to prepare for trials. Early in his reign, God gave him peace. What did he do during this restful time? He built! Part of 2 Chronicles 14:5–7 records:

The kingdom was quiet under [Asa]. And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.

Like Asa, we should prepare during peaceful times. While Asa strengthened his nation physically, we should strengthen ourselves spiritually. Pray and read the Word regularly. Serve the body of Christ. We do not serve others so they will serve us. We serve others because we want to serve Christ, but one blessing often produced is brothers and sisters who will “weep with [us when we] weep” and “suffer with [us]” when we suffer (Romans 12:15b, 1 Corinthians 12:26a). I have seen people enter trials and become frustrated that nobody was there for them, but in many of those cases they were not there for others who were “weeping” and “suffering.” Continue reading “The Need to Prepare for Trials”

Expect Trials in this Life

Recently, I witnessed a sobering example of the need to expect trials.

My wife, Katie, and I grew up together in northern California. We lost touch after high school and then reconnected almost ten years later. At the time, Katie was living in our hometown of McArthur, California, but I was seven hours south in Lemoore, California. Some wonderful friends of mine, Pat and Kathy Mundy, graciously invited Katie to live with them so we could be near each other, even though they did not know her yet. The four of us became close. They performed our pre-marital counseling and made the trip north for our wedding. Seven years ago, Katie and I moved from Lemoore to Woodland, Washington. Although the distance changed our relationship with Pat and Kathy, we remained friends.

A few years ago, Pat retired from the police department, and he and Kathy looked forward to investing in their grandkids, traveling, and serving their church. Then everything changed. Kathy got sick, and a hospital visit revealed an aggressive form of cancer. The “golden years” have been replaced with doctor appointments and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Nothing slowed the disease, and in a last attempt, they moved to Seattle for an experimental treatment. A few weeks ago, on their way north, they surprised us and stopped by our house to visit. Continue reading “Expect Trials in this Life”

Don’t Confuse Discipline and Trials

When we’re suffering, we often wonder if we did something wrong. As a result, we end up confusing God’s discipline and trials. I saw a recent example of this when a woman wrote me about a miscarriage she experienced. She wondered if God was punishing her. It was heartbreaking. The miscarriage was painful enough without also having to wonder if it was her fault.

You Didn’t Do Something Wrong!

We should expect trials, but when they take place, we don’t have to wonder if we sinned! It’s tragic when people blame themselves for their trials. It’s also tragic when people experience trials and “friends” try to get them to blame themselves!

Job’s friends come to mind. They started off well “[sitting] down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13). This demonstrates what to do when people are suffering. The “Ministry of Presence” requires being a good listener. I received a good piece of advice when I first became a pastor: “If you cannot improve on silence, do not.” Solomon said there is “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b), and “He who has knowledge spares his words” (Proverbs 17:27a).

Unfortunately, Job’s friends did not follow these verses, and things went downhill after they opened their mouths. Eliphaz was the first to speak, and he summarized their argument in Job 4:7 when he asked, “Who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off?” In other words, “When have bad things ever happened to good people?” Job’s friends wanted to convince him that since he suffered terribly, he must have sinned terribly. Continue reading “Don’t Confuse Discipline and Trials”