“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
“Really, James?! Do you know the trials I’ve met lately? Are you going to tell me to have joy?” But James does indeed say we should have joy, and he says we should have it now, while we are still in our trials, while we are still in our suffering. The author of Hebrews, Paul, Peter, Habakkuk, and Job all agree with James (Heb. 12:5; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:13; Hab. 3:17–18; Job 13:15). There is a right way for the Christian to suffer— joyously.
Eastern Hills has suffered much in recent weeks. We buried five beloved friends and family members last week, and by the time this article is published we will have buried two more. The pain of loss is staggering and should not be diminished. There is a reason why Jesus wept when He encountered the death of a friend (John 11:35). Suffering is real and it affects us all. Since it affects us all, we must respond to it in some way. We can brush it off as insignificant, but that would be careless. We can wrestle with it, constantly searching for reasons, but that would be fruitless. We can succumb to it and embrace a life of sorrow, but that would be harmful. If those are our options, I say we pick none of them. Let us instead turn to joy.
Joy is the only option that will drive us forward in the midst of our sorrow instead of pulling us down into despair. The joy we desire is that which we have in Christ who endured the suffering of the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2). You see, in Christ, there is always a future joy, there is a better day (Rev. 21: 3–4). He saw that better day when He was resurrected and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. We who are in Christ have hope for that better day, where we are present with Christ and made right without our Father in heaven. The hope of that better day is so strong that it allows us to experience joy now, in this day, even in the midst of suffering. We know that our suffering is making us more and more determined to remain faithful for our joyous, heavenly day. And the hope of that future day gives us joy in the present. We are like a child looking forward to the joy of Christmas day who finds joy in all the days leading up to it. This is the joy that sustains us, even in our suffering.
Faithful members of Eastern Hills, know that God not only sees your suffering, He understands what it feels like for you to suffer. And God, your God, has told you the best way to make it through to your final joy is through your current joy. So I say, as I share in your pain, let us all learn joy in suffering to the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.