Counting It Pure Joy

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One of the great Evangelicals of the 19th century was the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle. He was a man who was described as being “that man of granite with the heart of a child”. Not only was Ryle an Anglican Bishop and powerful preacher, but he was an author. Perhaps some of you have read his books, such as ‘Practical Religion’ and ‘Holiness’, just to name two. Here is something that he wrote about in regards to going through trials:

“WE FORGET THAT EVERY TRIAL IS A MESSAGE FROM GOD – AND INTENDED TO DO US GOOD IN THE END. TRIALS ARE INTENDED TO MAKE US THINK, TO WEAN US FROM THE WORLD, TO SEND US TO THE BIBLE, TO DRIVE US TO OUR KNEES”.

The old Bishop himself was no stranger to trials. After less than two years of marriage his wife died, leaving him both widowed and with a baby girl to raise. Less than a year later, his brother died — followed by his mother and sister a few years after that. He married again, five years after the death of his first wife, but 10 years later he was once again a widower, with four children to raise alone.((J. C. Ryle remarried again, and his third marriage was a great blessing to him. His wife enjoyed good health and J. C. Ryle was able to minister for many years until he finally preached his last sermon in 1899. In February 1990, at the age of 89, he laid down his Bishop’s staff, and went home to Christ in June later that year.))

Ryle understood trials. He experienced them, and he knew their meaning. The half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, James, was the same. Sometime around 40 A.D., James wrote to the Jewish Christians scattered around the known world and who had faced many trials. Being Jewish, they would have been easy targets for the Roman Empire, but being Jews who believed that Jesus is the long awaited Jewish Messiah, would have meant that they would have been targeted  from unbelieving Jews also. They needed encouragement so God used the half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was a prominent leader in the early church in Jerusalem (and who was later martyred) to write this letter to encourage them.

Now whilst we are not Jewish Christians, we too need encouragement. Just as the Christians in the 1st century faced trials, we Christians in the 21st century also face trials. So let’s examine Jame’s encouragement and challenge to us on how we, like those Jewish Christians in the 1st century, should approach the idea of trials. James 1:2 states:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, 

The word James uses that is translated as ‘trials’ can mean calamities, afflictions, temptations to sin, and trials. He has all sorts of things in mind. All kinds of things that can test our faith, and shaken our faith in God. Sickness, the death of loved ones, a child or grandchild or a spouse who or parents who have no interest in God and being reconciled to him, unemployment, being in a job that one hates, feeling like your life is a rut, financial pressures, and so forth.

A sad reality of existence is that we exist in a fallen world. We live in a world where there is death and decay. We live in a world that does not always make sense. A messy, sinful, broken world. A world that is wild, and where things happen that are beyond our control. We live in a world where we will face a myriad of trials. And James says that when you fall into trials, (and here, brothers and sisters is the encouragement), we should:

“CONSIDER IT PURE JOY” 

Is that meant to be an encouragement? Consider it pure joy? I can imagine people asking ‘Are you certain that this is what James says?’, ‘Is the NIV translation right?’, ‘Could you check your ESV, Joshua? After all, that is your favourite translation.’ The ESV says: “Count it all joy”. ‘Could you check the Greek?’ Literally James is saying:

COUNT/CONSIDER/ESTEEM IT ALL JOY WHEN YOU FALL INTO VARIOUS DIVERSE TRIALS. 

James is not saying that when we see a brother or sister in Christ who undergoing such a trial (whatever the trial may be), we are to say “Why do you weep? Why are those tears on your face? Put a smile on your dial, because James says “Count it all joy”. To apply this verse in this way to confuse joy with the world’s version of joy which is merely the emotion of happiness. This joy that James speaks of, is not the same as worldly joy.

Worldly joy is fleeting. It is temporary and merely emotional happiness. The joy that James encourages us to consider, to count, to esteem, to understand, is something much, much, deeper and much, much, more lasting. It is joy that is grounded in the knowledge of God, a joy that is grounded in the knowledge that God is sovereign, and that he is sovereign over all things, even our trials.

And in James 1:3, this gives us the reason why are to count it all joy. Look with me:

3 BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH PRODUCES PERSEVERANCE.

James wants his readers, and us, to know that trials have a meaning and purpose to them. God uses our trials produce in us a faith in God that is strong, stable, unshakable, and unwavering — a faith that perseveres. As people who trust in the Lord Jesus, should we not all then aspire and desire to have such a quality of faith? God uses our trials to effect this. This is why we can count it all joy. And in James 1:4 reveals more: God uses our trials to mature us, to grow our spiritual maturity:

4 LET PERSEVERANCE FINISH ITS WORK SO THAT YOU MAY BE MATURE AND COMPLETE, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.

God uses the trials that are part and parcel of living in this fallen work to build us up in our maturity. So don’t give us persevering. Let perseverance finish its work. Don’t just persevere for a while — persevere and, then, persevere some more!

Sadly these words have also been abused. They been abused by some who teach a gospel that says ‘you can have Heaven now’. A gospel that says ‘all the blessing of Christ are available and experienced in this life’. A gospel that proclaims that ‘Christians are meant to be happy and joyful all the time because this is what James says’. This is nonsense. Counting it all joy does not nullify grief nor pain nor sorrow. An example to support this is from the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Remember the the death of Lazarus in John 11?  Jesus sees a sibling of Lazarus weeping over his death, and John records Jesus’ response for us in John 11:33:

WHEN JESUS SAW HER WEEPING AND THE JEWS WHO HAD COME ALONG WITH HER ALSO WEEPING, HE WAS DEEPLY MOVED IN SPIRIT AND TROUBLED.

The word that is translated as ‘troubled’ in the original text is a word that means unsettled, affected with grief, anxiety, and agitatedJesus is hurting. Jesus is in pain. Jesus feels. He asks to see where they have laid his friend, Lazarus. When He sees, we come to the shortest verse in the Bible, and what a gift to us this verse is!

35 JESUS WEPT.

It is completely normal to grieve and hurt when we go through trials. Jesus did. This verse effectively permits Christ’s people to do so. It states that it is normal and healthy to weep. Weeping during the trials you face does not at all mean that you are not counting it all joy. Godly joy and human grief can hold hands.

James has told his readers how we should view trials, but how we should we respond to trials when they do happen. Look with me at the first half of James 1:5:

5 IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, YOU SHOULD ASK GOD, 

 I read a excellent definition of wisdom recently:

“A God given and God centered discernment regarding the practical issues in life”. James advice is good, and so helpful.  If we lack the wisdom to discern the issues of life, especially when we are going through trials, ask God for it! Go to God! Go to God in prayer! Ask him to help you to discern your trials; ask him to help you to remember that your trials have an eternal purpose — in order that God may build you up into maturity, so that you will trust him more. Look with me at the second half of James 1:5:

WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU.

What wonderful words of encouragement and assurance! Did you notice how James describes God?

WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT. 

When we come to God as messy, broken, people who are in pain, sorrow, or sickness; If we lack wisdom, and ask God. He will give. Not begrudgingly, not reluctantly, nor in irritation. God is the God that gives generously! Remember we can approach the throne of grace boldly and confidently because of the great high priest who went before us, the one who died in our place, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Douglas Moo in his commentary of James makes a great observation about this verse by saying this: “[God] gives with singleness of intent”. When God gives, he loves, and when he loves, he is merely being himself. God is the generous giving Father. So when you lack wisdom facing trials, James says to the Church in the 1st century, ask God! Go to God! Pray! This is the exact same way for us in the 21st century. God gives with singleness of intent.

But just as God gives with singleness of intent, we are to approach God with singleness of intent. Look with me at James 1:6:

6 BUT WHEN YOU ASK, YOU MUST BELIEVE AND NOT DOUBT, BECAUSE THE ONE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, BLOWN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND.

To approach God with singleness of intent, is to come to him like a child comes to their parent with absolute trust.

It’s a matter of trust, of faith, which is the very same thing. Do we trust God with our trials or will do we trust that the world has the answers? Will we trust God with our trials or own strength, abilities, and understanding? The challenge from James is that when we face trials, we should go to God without doubting. Don’t vacillate between God and your own strength, God and your abilities, God and your understanding, God and your wisdom. Go to God as he answers, with singleness of intent.images-1To doubt is to be like a wave in the ocean. Waves in the ocean not like waves that hit a reef. They are messy, unpredictable, chaotic, and are at the mercy of the wind. Whereas, waves that break on a reef are very different.  Look how James describes such a person in James 1:7-8:

7 THAT PERSON SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD. 8 SUCH A PERSON IS DOUBLE-MINDED AND UNSTABLE IN ALL THEY DO.

The double minded person is the person whose soul is cut in two, not knowing who to trust.  James presents for us the very sad alternative to trusting in God.

The world is a messy place. Life is chaotic and sometimes it blows us around by the trials we will face, and we will all face them. Last year was a year that was not devoid of trials, and I am certain that this year will be the same. I am not trying to be morbid or pessimistic (I’m actually one of those extroverted glass is half full types), but because this is what life this side of heaven is like. So my encouragement to you my dear brothers and sisters is this: Go to the only One who is stable through all trials! The one who, where we rarely know why trials come, always knows! Go to the One whom is the anchor in the storms of life, the anchor that will always hold! The great eternal anchor that keeps the soul!  Just as that old chorus says:

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

Stedfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,

  Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.

J. C. Ryle puts it this way:

“WE FORGET THAT EVERY TRIAL IS A MESSAGE FROM GOD – AND INTENDED TO DO US GOOD IN THE END. TRIALS ARE INTENDED TO MAKE US THINK, TO WEAN US FROM THE WORLD, TO SEND US TO THE BIBLE, TO DRIVE US TO OUR KNEES”.

Some Questions to think about:

  1. How are your responding to God in the trials that you face?
  2. Have you thought about ‘counting it all joy’?
  3. For some us, perhaps, we need to say to God the very same plea that the Father of a demon possessed child said to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 9:24) , “Lord, I believe, Help my unbelief”.
  4. Have you ever considered praying to this to God? ‘Please grant me wisdom so that I can count it all joy when I face trials so that I can persevere and be built up in the faith so that you are glorified, my Lord, my God, my Saviour, my Anchor!’
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