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.
“What’s your story?” It’s a simple enough question, but put your toe in that water, and it’s deeper than you thought. How would we tell the story of our lives? How would we tell the story of the last few months? Who’s the main character? Who’s the villain? What’s the tension? What’s the resolution? We all have a story, and whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all living inside a story that is shaping our lives. But how do we identify the defining story of our lives? James gives us one investigative tool: consider how we respond to trials. We forget how strange God’s word can be, and then we read James 1:2 – “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” What kind of story would lead us to be joyful in the midst of trials?
In recent months, we have experienced isolation, unemployment, cancellations, frustrations, racial injustice, social unrest, disease, and death. It’s a grim list. The six months of 2020 have brought a decade’s worth of trials. And many people are at the breaking point. Some pine for 2019 (which had its share of challenges, too). Some charge ahead to reclaim some semblance of life as we knew it. And some spiral down into anxiety and anger. It’s not easy to count it all joy in the midst of a pandemic and everything else.
Trials squeeze us, and like sponges, whatever is in us can’t help but come out. Trials reveal us, and what we see isn’t always pretty. The prevailing story in the West in recent decades has been the quest for material prosperity. Economic growth has brought many benefits around the globe, but there is a strange dynamic in America and elsewhere. Greater wealth has not delivered greater joy. Studies show that the wealthiest people often feel the tension most acutely. The story of the American Dream has failed to deliver the happy ending that it promised, but we keep diving back into it hoping it will turn out differently this time. The story that tells us that we were made to earn, consume, and repeat, is driving us deeper and deeper into isolation and dissatisfaction. When worldly success and comfort are the goals, trials and pain are naturally the enemies. So of course we can’t “count it all joy” in 2020, right? We have been wired to flee from undesirable circumstances. Before we do that again, would we have the courage to challenge the story that has formed us into this kind of people?
The Lord invites us into a story that is not ultimately about us. He is the main character. We are not. As our Creator, He knows what is best for us. As our Redeemer, He lived, died, and rose again to destroy our sin and restore our relationship with Him. The story of the Bible isn’t about God fulfilling all of our selfish desires. It’s the story of God doing everything necessary to make us and all things new. It’s the story of the Lord freeing us from our idols and refashioning us in His image, so that we can become everything that He intended for us to be…in Him. But here’s the catch. For some reason, in His infinite wisdom, our loving God has chosen to do this most beautiful work through difficulty, trials, and suffering. We don’t need to give examples from the Bible. Every character would tell the same story, and it’s never clearer than in the life of Jesus Christ Himself.
So what’s our story, and why does it matter? If our story is the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything changes. Resting in what He did for us, we no longer live for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our goals are no longer achieving prosperity and avoiding pain. Our goals are conformity to Christ and being His ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation He has entrusted to us (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). So when we encounter trials of various kinds, we can count it all joy, because we know that the Lord is using the difficulty to accomplish His purposes for His glory. Oh, don’t we feel the need for the Lord to make us steadfast, that we may one day be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4)? Our feet are firmly planted when we realize that no one can rewrite the glorious ending of the story, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. We will never count it all joy unless God’s story is becoming our story. But if it is, we will begin to look as strange as James sounds. But doesn’t the world need to see something different right now? Doesn’t the world need a better story?