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.
When I first brought the kids to the pool, I could barely get them down the steps. If I got them down the steps, they stayed glued to the sides. When I got them away from the sides, they didn’t want to learn to swim. When they learned to swim, they didn’t want to go in the deep end. I had to repeatedly force them to do things they didn’t want to do.
The first time I took my oldest child, Rhea, to the deep end, she was terrified. She clung to the side while I talked to her about what I wanted her to do and why I wanted her to do it. She cried and begged me to let her go back to the shallow end. Although I had seen the kids’ reluctance since bringing them to the pool, this was the first time I saw genuine fear. I told Rhea:
I have been pushing you since our first visit to the pool. Each time I’ve had you do things you didn’t want to do. There’s nothing I have wanted you to do that you wanted to do. I know you have not liked it, but if this were not the case you would still be sitting on the steps.
Rhea ended up swimming across the deep end. Soon after she began jumping off the diving board and going down the slide. This has been the pattern with each of my children.
Trials Are the Deep End of the Pool
We don’t like trials. They’re painful and difficult. We would rather sit on the steps where we’re comfortable and don’t have to be challenged or afraid. If we could, we’d probably spend our lives in the shallow end. But there would be two unfortunate consequences:
- We wouldn’t be much use to God. He can’t do much with Christians who “can’t swim”
- We wouldn’t be much like Jesus
James 1:4 says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” What does this mean? The simplest answer is it means becoming like Christ. God uses trials to conform us into the image and likeness of His Son. This involves removing areas of our lives that keep us from being like Him, and trials accomplish this better than almost anything else. Douglas Kelly said:
As God’s dear children, we, who are by grace adopted, are called into the fellowship of suffering, soon enough to be followed by stupendous glory, with the only begotten Son the suffering precedes the glory; the cross precedes the crown, both in the order of experience of the eternal Son of God and also in that of adopted sons and daughters of God.
Perspective Determines Whether We “Count it All Joy”
Trials are opportunities for joy, but only opportunities. There is no guarantee we will view them the way God commands and “count it all joy.” A wrong perspective will prevent us from finding joy in trials.
If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. But if we value maturity more than ease, then we can “count it all joy.” God has a greater purpose than our temporary happiness. He is more concerned about us eternally than temporarily. If we live for the physical—the here and now—then we will despise trials. They will make us resentful. Although, if we live for the spiritual—the eternal—then we can embrace trials.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials (1 Peter 1:6).
Why does Peter say, “for a little while?” Because, if we have an eternal perspective, no matter how long any trial lasts, it always looks like “a little while.”
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When we consider our afflictions with an eternal perspective, they only last “for a moment.” In the next verse (2 Corinthians 4:18), Paul tells us how to have the perspective that allows us to “count it all joy”:
While we do not look at the things which are seen (an earthly, temporal perspective), but at the things which are not seen (a heavenly, eternal perspective).
For the things which are seen are temporary (a little while, for a moment), but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Why Jesus Could Face the Cross with Joy
Although we might be encouraged by the way others handled trials, nobody has ever experienced a trial as well as Jesus. He is our example. God the Son obeyed God the Father perfectly. Jesus did whatever Scripture commanded, including fulfilling the words of James 1:2 decades before they were written. He was able to “count it all joy” when going to the cross, which was the greatest trial ever experienced. Hebrews 12:2 describes His joy. Let’s break up the verse into parts:
- “Looking unto Jesus”—He models how to handle trials, so we should set our eyes on Him.
- “The author and finisher of our faith”—He allows our faith to persevere through the trials we face.
- “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”—Jesus viewed going to the cross with joy, but the cross itself brought Jesus no more joy than the trials we face bring us joy. Our joy comes from knowing what the trials produce, and Jesus’ joy came from knowing what the cross would produce.
What did the cross accomplish that was so wonderful to Jesus that it allowed Him to experience something so horrific with joy? It was the joy of knowing our sins would be paid for, redeeming us from the pit of hell, and then He would spend eternity with us. If you have repented and put your faith in Christ, then He endured the punishment your sins deserve. What does it mean to repent and put your faith in Jesus? It means turning from your sins and believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died, was buried, and rose again. If you have not repented and put your faith in Christ, then He has not endured the punishment your sins deserve, and you will have to endure that punishment yourself.
Just as Jesus could view the cross with joy by considering what it accomplished, so can we view trials with joy by considering what they accomplish. When we recognize trials work for us and not against us, then we can face them with joy. God’s desire is never to defeat us through trials, whether they be large or small. He brings them to strengthen us. John MacArthur said, “God will always use testing to produce good in us when we meet the test in His power.”
Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section
- How do you typically respond to trials? Is your reaction based on your earthly comforts or heavenly gain?
- Like Christ, what can you do to focus “on the joy set before you” as you endure trials? In other words, what can you do to “count it all joy” when enduring trials?
- Discuss three trials you would describe as “God bringing you into the deep end.” In other words, they stretched, scared, and/or challenged you.
Most of this post is taken from my book, Enduring Trials God’s Way: