Abraham faced a difficult journey, rebellious nephew, wandering existence, and hostile environment. Joseph faced a forced servitude, lonely existence, licentious woman, wrongful imprisonment, and godless environment. Naomi faced a terrible famine, foreign land, premature death, and fading hope. David faced a psychotic king, outlawed existence, divided home, rebellious son, and passionate nature.
What can conclude from this? In a word, God tests his people. We might not want to hear it, but we can’t deny it. These tests come at different times and in different ways, but — as certain as the morning sun — they come. James declares, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (v. 2). Please note three important details in this verse.
First, trials come in many forms. They include illness, bereavement, slander, persecution, loneliness, unemployment, oppression, poverty, weariness, pain, etc. When it comes to trials, one size doesn’t fit all. The majority of trials are unspoken, unnoticed, and unacknowledged. They’re carried secretly in the innermost recesses of the soul, and never exposed to the light of day.
Second, trials often take us by surprise. The KJV is very helpful here. It says “fall” instead of “meet.” That’s a much better translation. The original term refers to something that catches us by surprise. The man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, didn’t “meet” thieves on the road. He “fell” among thieves. They caught him by surprise. It’s the same verb in our verse. We don’t see these trials coming, and we’re helpless to avoid them, prevent them, or delay them.
Third, trials are to be accepted/welcomed/embraced with joy. It’s important to note that we don’t look at trials in themselves as a cause of joy. They fill us with pain, grief, panic, worry, and fear. So what does James mean? How can we “count it all joy” when we fall into trials?
- God’s Purpose
Our ability to count it all joy when we fall into trials depends on our knowledge of God’s purpose. James makes it clear that God designs trials to test our faith. This testing produces “steadfastness,” which in turn makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (vv. 3–4). That is to say, our great God has a great plan.
Thomas Manton writes “[God] is too strong to be resisted, too just to be questioned, and too good to be suspected.” That being the case, we’re confident that God isn’t a passive bystander when it comes to our trials. On the contrary, he’s over them, through them, and in them, accomplishing his good purposes for us. Manton shares some very helpful insights on these verses in James. In particular, he urges us to remember four truths when we find ourselves in the “furnace” of affliction. First, we must remember that God’s “aim” in affliction isn’t destruction, but trial — “as gold is put into the furnace to be refined, not consumed.” To put it simply, God isn’t trying to hurt us. Second, we must remember that we aren’t “in the furnace by chance, or at the will of our enemies.” On the contrary, “the time is appointed, set by God.” He appoints and orders all things. Third, we must remember that “God sits by the furnace … looking after his metal.” He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He never abandons us to our own devices. Fourth, we must remember that God’s purpose in trials is “not only to approve, but to improve; we are tried as gold, refined when tried.” He has a glorious purpose in view.
- God’s Provision
Our ability to count it all joy when we fall into trials depends on our acceptance of God’s provision. In our own strength, we can’t rejoice in affliction. We desperately require God’s help to do that. And so, James encourages us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (v. 5).
Interestingly, James uses two expressions to describe God’s response to our request for wisdom. First, God gives generously. James wants us to understand that granting this request is easy for God. He will answer out of his abundance. Second, God gives without reproach. His generosity is inexhaustible. We can’t weary him by our asking. We can’t ask for too much. As a matter of fact, James’s point is that we don’t ask for nearly enough. God gives out of his abundance. He gives generously and without reproach.
Having made his point, James is careful to add an important qualifier: “let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” He explains that God won’t give wisdom to a “double-minded man” (v. 8). That’s a person who’s always fluctuating between two opinions — literally, a man of two souls. One day, he thinks God is able. The next day, he isn’t so certain. “That person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (v. 7).
- God’s Promise
Our ability to count it all joy when we fall into trials depends on our faith in God’s promise. James says that those who persevere under trial are blessed. Why? They receive “the crown of life” (v. 12). He explains that God has promised this crown to “those who love him.” That little statement reminds us that remaining “steadfast under trial” is worth the reward. We’ll endure a great deal for someone or something we love. People will endure all sorts of hardships for family, reputation, wealth, power, etc. Why? They think it’s worth it. Surely Christ is worth it.
One day, we’ll see Christ in all his glory. He will impress his glory upon us to the fullest capacity of our souls. What will that day be like? It will be a satisfying sight. Our minds will be satisfied, in that they won’t be able to know anything greater. Our hearts will be satisfied, in that they won’t be able to love anything greater. In short, we’ll find perfect rest in God. He will be our “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). It will also be a transforming sight: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). It will also be an everlasting sight: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17).
We easily and quickly lose perspective in the midst of trials. Our circumstances become all-encompassing. We must remember to look at our present circumstances from a far greater vantage point — “the crown of life.”
Application of Wisdom in Trials
With the foundation of understanding wisdom in trials, there are several applications that can be made. As I counsel people who are struggling with trials, I find that one (or more) of the following questions usually comes up.
- Why is this happening? This person wants to know what God is doing. He wants to resolve and unravel every detail of life. He wants to see the big picture. In short, he wants to know the mind of God. How do I respond?
- God’s knowledge is absolutely limitless. We judge circumstances according to our finite perspective, but God knows all things by one infinite act of understanding. “Will any teach God knowledge?” (Job 21:22).
- God reveals all we need to know. He tells us that his purpose is to glorify himself by testing us thereby producing steadfastness leading to maturity.
- “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” (1 Pet 1:7–8).
- Why doesn’t God just make it go away? This person thinks everything would be better if her circumstances were different. She thinks that if only this trial would go away, her life would be so much better. How do I respond?
- What do you think will make you happy? Fill in the blank. “Life will be better when …” “Life will be easier when …” “I’ll be happy when …” The point is that we never reach the “when.” Why not? It keeps changing.
- There’s only thing that will make us happy: “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Ps 16:2). We’ll never be satisfied until we can say those words.
- What did I do to deserve this? This person thinks God is unfair. He thinks he has received a bad deal. He thinks he deserves better. How do I respond?
- “If what you think you have is less than what you think you deserve, you’ll always be unhappy.” It’s worse than that. You’ll be bitter. The greatest enemy to joy and thanksgiving is a sense of entitlement. The moment I think I deserve more, I will never find contentment.
- “If what you think what you have is greater than what you think you deserve, you’ll be happy.” All I deserve is God’s eternal punishment. When I grasp this, bitterness evaporates. Every happy moment, every sunny day, every cuddle with my children, every outburst of laughter, every sunrise, every early morning cup of coffee, every snowflake, every piece of clothing, every summer vacation, every pack of jalapeno potato chips, becomes a wonderful “bonus” and, therefore, a cause of thanksgiving.
All told, how we respond to trials depends a great deal on how we look at trials. For this reason, it’s important for us to engage in deliberate thought. That is to say, we must make what we feel subservient to what we know. In a word, we must pray for wisdom.
Dr. Yuille is Teaching Pastor/Elder of Grace CommunityChurch in Glen Rose, Texas. He has served the Lord as a missionary, preaching elder, and as a seminary professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary in Toronto. He is the author of several books including The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ and others.
Want content updates by email?
Visit our subscription page to select the type of content you would like to be notified about!