Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).
This may be the hardest thing in the Christian life. It’s simple to understand, but seems impossible to do. How do you find joy during a battle with cancer? How do you rejoice when you can’t find a job or can’t kick an addiction; when you’re mocked for your faith; when all you want are your circumstances to change?
What God Wants for You
When it comes to finding joy in our suffering, we should ask why God is allowing it in the first place. When you ask that question of the Bible, the answer in some cases is that God allows suffering because he wants us to be holy. God’s goal for you after coming to faith in Christ is to make you mature—or holy—in Christ.
1 Peter 1:14-16 puts it this way: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
Becoming holy is a process. Christians should constantly shed their old, sinful habits in favor of new ones that encourage holiness (see Ephesians 4:22-24).
This is the refining process of God. Trials are the heat applied to our lives.
If God is interested in your holiness, it makes sense that you experience seasons of suffering. These seasons are meant to refine your character. The biblical imagery used for this process is smelting, where a blacksmith heats silver or gold so hot that its impurities float to the top where they can be skimmed off. The blacksmith does this repeatedly until the impurities have been removed.
This is the refining process of God, too. Trials are the heat applied to our lives. When life starts to heat up, our imperfections come to the surface. Once they make their way to the top, Jesus is ready and willing to skim them off—if you’ll let him.
Does God Want Me to Be Happy or Holy?
“But doesn’t God want me to be happy?” you might be thinking. Yes, but he wants more for you than mere happiness—joy.
Happiness is an emotion based on our circumstances. Joy is much more profound. It’s a choice, a disposition, to be happy regardless of your circumstances. Joy is what God calls us to: “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Aim at joy and you’ll get happiness thrown in: aim at happiness and you’ll get neither.
If you make happiness your life’s goal, you’re guaranteed to fail because your circumstances will change. Joy, on the other hand, isn’t determined by circumstances, so it can’t be taken from you. Aim at joy and you’ll get happiness thrown in: aim at happiness and you’ll get neither.
Joy rooted in Jesus changes everything—even how you experience suffering.
Do You Really Want Jesus?
You must really want Jesus to find joy during suffering. You must be able to say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
To find joy when you’re suffering, you must care more about Jesus than anything else. That seems simple enough until you ask if you really want Jesus.
Do you really want Jesus even if he doesn’t get you that promotion; even if you don’t get better? Do you really want Jesus even if your marriage doesn’t turn around or your child never comes back?
Change Me, Not My Circumstances
We often come to Jesus asking him to change our circumstances. We want out of the suffering, out of the grief, out of the trial. But if we’re thinking like God, we should be praying, “Change me, not my circumstances.”
If we’re after holiness then we’ll rejoice in times of suffering. That doesn’t mean we can’t collapse over being betrayed, or weep over losing a friend; joy transcends sadness. It means we count the time of character formation as joy and we see our trials as opportunities to be refined. And when we can’t, God tells us to ask for the wisdom to see what he’s doing in us and he’s faithful to give it to us (see James 1:5).
It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. There will still be incredible pain. But if you want Jesus and you make holiness your goal, you’ll be able to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.
(Guest writer Grayson Pope is a husband and father of three, as well the Managing Web Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship and has earned a MACS at The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more of his writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.)