Joy in Trials

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2-3 NKJV)

I’ve come to the conclusion James is a nutcase. His ship is not firmly tied to the pier. His bread is not cooked in the middle. His six-pack is missing the little plastic thingy. Joy in trials? Ha! What a psycho. This one verse is enough to write off this Jesus thing and Christians in general. They must be a crazy mixed-up group of people to believe this junk.

But wait — if the Bible is the Word of God there must be a point to this. Joy in trials? Yeah right. Yet that’s exactly what God wants us to do, as He explains through James (the brother of Jesus). If we don’t understand, we must remember two things: first, if a passage sounds weird, it’s because we need to dig into it a little more — and second, God doesn’t work like the world does — God’s wisdom is frequently the opposite of the world’s wisdom.

So we need to peel this onion and see what’s inside before we dismiss James, and by association, Jesus.

A simple answer is usually given in response to this verse — during trials we tend to pray more, and lean more on God instead of ourselves. How many of us have found that out? How many trials did it take to learn that lesson? It’s a critical lesson we must learn, and God is willing to do whatever it takes for us to learn it. You see, we inherited a genetic defect from Adam — the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam took of the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, we (being his descendants) inherited his curse. Before Adam ate, he was innocent — he had no knowledge of good and evil. After, he did.

Well duh, you say, that’s obvious. Sure it is — but the implication isn’t always obvious. Since we know good from evil, we frequently don’t rely on God. It’s easy to fall into the trap that we can handle a situation, in fact, we don’t even need to bother God with this petty matter, we’ll just handle it ourselves. And then wammo — we stumble and fall. Why? The knowledge of good and evil.

So God allows trials to come so we might draw nearer to Him. But how does this work practically? I understand the theory, but it’s the application I have trouble with. That’s the real lesson here, and as Paul Harvey would say, that’s the rest of the story. As an example, look to the apostle Paul. Paul probably experienced more problems in life than most of us.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28 NKJV)

Wow. A few notes are in order. “forty stripes” is a beating with a whip. Stoned doesn’t refer to drugs but literally having stones thrown at him (and they drug him out of the city and hoped they killed him — Acts 14:19). He’d been in jail so many times he must have been on a first name basis with many of the guards. And if you traveled by ship in those days, be sure Paul wasn’t onboard — every ship he got on went down! Paul must have been the inspiration for the song with the words “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen — nobody knows the sorrow”. And make no mistake about it, Paul definitely experienced sorrow.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Corinthians 1:8 NKJV)

You can imagine with Paul’s problems, despairing of life would be easy. But how about you? What are you despairing about — even of life? Have you experienced some of what Paul did? Jail? Shipwrecks? Or how about a more modern slant — broke? Destitute? How do we deal with such things? Paul has the answer:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)

In spite of all Paul’s problems, he talks of the peace of God. But it’s the following clause that holds the lesson for us — “which surpasses all understanding”. You see, if you’re looking for peace from understanding in your trials I can already give you the answer — there won’t be any; many times we just don’t understand what’s going on. Yet Jesus can give you the peace that passes understanding.

Paul was an intense man. Later in the letter to the Philippians he says:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: (Philippians 4:11 NKJV)

Not regard to need? When he writes this, Paul is in a dungeon — complete with rats, moldy bread and raw sewage. Maybe you’re in jail right now — perhaps it’s a physical one, but perhaps it’s mental — you just can’t break out of the doom and despair in your life. Stay with us, Paul shows us the secret, and provides a “get out of jail free” card (After all, Jesus has already paid the debt we can’t pay).

By the way, Paul was chained to a guard during his stay in prison. What do you suppose Paul thought of his chains? Did he view them as a means to prevent him from escaping? NO! When presented with the chance to escape, he didn’t (Acts 16:26-28). Paul probably thought the chains were so the soldier couldn’t get away from Paul! Could you imagine being chained to this fanatical, zealous apostle for a shift? Many of them got saved (Phil 1:12-13).

Paul’s lesson is simple: be content with where you are, and trust in the Lord, as Proverbs says:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV)

Right, you say. Just who is this LORD that I can trust Him? What if He treats us like puppets in His sadistic game? Good question — one deserving of an answer. What does God have to say about his nature?

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV)

What hope, you may say. I don’t have any hope at all. I’m stuck in these four walls; my mind is distressed and tormented. How can you talk of hope? You’re crazier than James! But for the child of God, there is always hope.

looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:13 NKJV)

What hope do we have? Looking for the appearing of our savior Jesus. Of course, if you’re not a Christian you might be right, there isn’t a lot of hope. But maybe God has gone through great lengths to speak to you. Maybe God is calling you back. Maybe He just wants you to know Him better. Or maybe during these events you share your faith with someone who desperately needs it. I don’t know. But one thing I do know that Paul tells me.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NKJV)

It doesn’t say we understand all things, just that all things work together for good. But not for everyone, only for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose. We are called for His purpose, not ours. We are His workmanship, created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul knew this — that’s why he was content in whatever state he found himself — shipwrecked, in prison, beaten, and finally executed. But if you’re not a Christian this wonderful promise doesn’t apply to you.

So what do we do about trials? Easy. Don’t look for understanding — it won’t come. You can go to all the therapy you want, but you won’t get understanding — only large debts. But you do have available the peace of God which passes understanding.

And looking at the life of Paul a final conclusion is drawn: be sold out for Jesus, and don’t worry about anything else. Run the race with endurance.

“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 NKJV)

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24 NKJV)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV)

Paul knew what the priority was: be sold out to Jesus. Whatever came his way didn’t distract him from the goal, so that he could say just before that Roman sword flashed in the sun to chop off his head:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV)

Trials come; be sold out to Jesus — don’t look for understanding, look to Jesus for peace that passes understanding.

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