Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 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 (James 1:2–4, ESV).
Consider this statement made by James, the half-brother of Jesus: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Did you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness? James knew his readers had been taught the concept of trials producing spiritual growth. But did they really grasp it?
Another word for the principle James is applying is endurance—and it isn’t automatic or intuitive. Like the first-century followers of Jesus, we have to be taught that hardships are what God uses to develop our endurance. Unless we understand how He works, our response to “trials of various kinds” is likely to be anything but “joy.”
So if James’s readers already knew what he was telling them, why did he tell them? First, because he realized, like any good teacher, that knowing and doing are two separate steps. Knowing what God can do with trials isn’t the same thing as doing life with that knowledge. Second, he was reminding them of their privilege to respond to God’s work through testing by choosing joy.
We all know there are other choices before us when hard times come. We can get angry with God for His role in allowing a trial. We can get discouraged because we were expecting an easier life with Christ. We can even develop a persistent bad attitude in a trial that keeps others from seeing our hope in the middle of what God is doing.
Joy is a much better choice. Not joy for the “trials of various kinds,” but joy over what those trials will accomplish in deepening our faith. White-knuckling your way through a difficulty is a certain kind of endurance, but endurance without joy is not a pretty sight. And choosing to be angry, to feed discouragement, or to push others away aren’t the kind of endurance God wants to develop in us. He longs for us to persevere joyfully.
Today we might say, “Keep on!” To keep on means to continue doing what you have committed to doing, whether you feel like it or not. Don’t give up. In Scripture we see this as endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness. Nothing is more essential to success in the Christian life than to persevere, to keep on. This is a character trait you have to develop. Faith gets you started; joyful steadfastness keeps you going.
Fortunately, God is even more interested in growing your endurance than you are! Almost everything He allows in your life has the purpose of developing your perseverance. That is why, as James 1:3 says, your faith is tested. Not so your faith will fail, but to produce in you a perfecting steadfastness that results in supernatural joy.
Lord, forgive me for struggling with endurance while too often in my life missing the ingredient of joy. Forgive me for times when I’ve put on the game face of keeping on, but with an attitude that made others wonder what was the point. Teach me again to “count it all joy” because I know that You are working out Your will for my life and character. Thank You for Nehemiah’s great reminder, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10)—I can’t endure in my strength, but in Your strength I can endure with joy. In Jesus’ name, amen.