Poet Annie Johnson Flint once wrote this piece about trials in the Christian life:
Pressed out of measure, and pressed to all length;
Pressed so intensely it seems beyond strength;
Pressed in the body and pressed in the soul
Pressed in the mind till the dark surges roll:
Pressure by foes, and pressure by friends;
Pressure on pressure till life nearly ends:
Pressed into knowing no helper but God;
Pressed into loving the staff and the rod:
Pressed into liberty where nothing clings;
Pressed into faith for impossible things:
Pressed into living a life in the Lord;
Pressed into living a Christ-life outpoured.
At first, the poem lingers on all the various struggles that test us — physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. But after coming nearly to the point of despair, it then takes a turn, looking to all the blessings brought about through testing. It paints a beautiful picture of what the Lord accomplishes with our suffering.
Poems like this remind us of why James can tell us to “consider it all joy” when we encounter hardship (1:2). Though it may seem paradoxical or downright impossible at first, in Christ we have the power to think this way. And in fact, having a joyful attitude through trials helps us endure them.
Of course, it doesn’t come naturally; it requires a conscious commitment to evaluate suffering in a way that brings joy. When Paul said to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state to be content” (4:11), he expressed that joyful contentment in suffering was something he had to learn and cultivate. It isn’t something that happens by accident.
As Hebrews 12:11 acknowledges, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” But then it continues, “Yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
When we see a trial coming, we can cultivate an attitude of joy by anticipating the perfecting work that the Lord will accomplish through it.
This was our Savior’s way on earth, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If this was how Jesus lived, this is how we also should live. We need to have vision that reaches beyond our trials to the joy beyond them. And in this present moment, James says we should rejoice with “all joy.”
Commentators have rendered this phrase “all joy” multiple ways: “unmixed joy,” “complete joy,” “total joy,” “sheer joy,” and so on. But all of these options say roughly the same thing. This is the wholehearted joy of someone who counts it a privilege to have his faith tested, because he knows the test will draw him closer to his Savior. Because he longs so deeply for that intimacy, even trials are welcome friends.
Have you noticed that trials make you much more sensitive to the presence of God? Have you noticed that when you’re going through difficult times, your prayer life expands? Have you noticed that they make you search the Scriptures more as you seek answers to your problems, and that you ask people to pray for you more? All of these things draw you closer to the Lord, the very source of your joy.
In addition to the sweetening effect that suffering has on our intimacy with God, trials are also joyful because they are a privilege. It is a privilege to suffer in the name of Christ. When the apostles were harassed and beaten by Jerusalem’s religious authorities, they went out “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Imprisonment and flogging are significant trials, but because the apostles relished the privilege of being like Christ in His sufferings, they rejoiced at the opportunity.
But it isn’t just external persecution that should be counted as a privilege. Internal weakness is also a privilege to bear according to 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh.” In response to Paul’s prayers for relief, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (verse 9).
This thorn, whatever it was, caused Paul great distress. But in response to God’s declaration, Paul adds, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Paul’s suffering because of the thorn was a conduit for the power of Christ to dwell in him. And so he rejoiced because of that privilege.
What you need most desperately is not the removal of your trial, but the grace to endure it and to rejoice in all the benefits that trials bring. They draw you closer to the Lord. They allow you the privilege of identifying with His sufferings. And they allow you the privilege of highlighting His grace by being entirely dependent on Him.
Finally, we can have joy in trials by remembering that the suffering will someday be over. As Romans 8:17 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Today’s sufferings mean that it will feel awfully good when “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
So when trials hit, our first practical step for enduring them is to rejoice. What a rich and wonderful thing it is to see your faith proven and strengthened, to see sin pushed out of your life, to strengthen your heart with hope for that better day when you won’t have trials, to be drawn deeper into communion, and to identify with Christ! These things are ample fuel for joy.
I was reading Warren Wiersbe, a dear friend, and he had an excellent little paragraph about trials:
Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. (Be Mature: Growing Up in Christ, page 33)
If you can’t rejoice in your trials, your values are wrong. But as you find yourself being able to rejoice even in the midst of severe suffering, you can know it is because God is transforming your values to be like His.
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