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
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God
– Philippians 4:4-7
The last 10 days at the Pontius household have been rough ones, with Kelly, Micah, and I all in various stages of being sick with running noses, throbbing headaches, and endless coughing. Being sick is tough enough when you only need to take care of yourself but, as any parent knows, having a sick kid doubles the challenge.
For the last several nights Micah’s been awake 4-5 times a night with a wracking cough. It’s painful to listen to. Even more painful is the fact that it means we’ve spent a significant amount of time rocking him back to sleep or in some cases, sitting awake with him for an hour or two until he realizes it’s 3 AM and he’s still tired.
“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters,” James says. The Apostle Paul echoes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Challenging words when living sick on 5 hours of sleep. And being sick and lacking sleep are, in the grand scheme of things, small troubles. What of when you lose a parent? When you’re diagnosed with a terminal cancer? When your internet is slow. Kidding on that last one, obviously. But seriously.
Regardless of the circumstance, Paul and James are relentless about joy. James is specific; count your trials as joy. Paul agrees, both in word and deed as he sits in a jail cell worshipping after being stripped and beaten in public in Acts 16. In the eyes of these apostles joy isn’t a soft and fuzzy thing. It’s a necessity for Kingdom living that is to be cultivated with almost fierce intentionality. The question, of course, is how? From these oft-quoted verses I see at least four answers to that question.
Set your mind on joy.
We are to calculate troubles and trials as something of joy. When we encounter a hardship and are determining which side of the emotional scale to place it on, we are to place it on the site of the positive.
This isn’t something that comes naturally. It takes an intentional set of the mind – a determined reckoning that says “I will count this trial as joy.” When it’s 2 AM and Micah wakes up coughing, requiring Kelly or I to drag ourselves out of bed to go soothe him back to sleep it will require a determination in our semi-conscious minds to agree with Heaven and say “this is joy.”
Look to the outcome, not the moment
James says that it’s because testing and trials results in endurance or steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete that we are to calculate trials as joy-bringers.
If you’re struggling with joy it’s probably a problem of perspective. Odds are that you’re more focused on your current pain, tiredness, frustration, disappointment, etc than you are on where God’s taking you in the future. Faith isn’t stuck in the present; it has vision that sees the future as beautiful. Just like Jesus “who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), we are to look beyond the moment and by faith behold the glory of the outcome.
Look at Jesus, not the problem
Paul’s words in Philippians are similar to James. He says that when we’re lacking joy it’s a problem of perspective. Where are we to find our joy? “Rejoice in the Lord,” not in circumstances. Only when we learn settle our emotions in the immortal, unchangeable Father can we enter into the joy that Paul learned to practice. We do this settling doing what, to again quote from Hebrews 12, is like “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. By intentionally redirecting our minds away from the immediate problem and setting it instead on who Jesus is and what he has done.
Then do it again. And again. And again.
“Again I will say, rejoice.” There’s a reason that Paul repeats himself here. This looking to Jesus isn’t a one-time decision that will forever loft us into heavenly floatings of joy. No, it is a repeated practice. A continual resetting of our mental bent until the supernatural activity of counting trials as joy and rejoicing always is as ingrained in us as breathing.
As we become those people we will discover a peace and happiness in all circumstances that frees us from so many of the trappings that we think we need. Anxiety will fade away and be replaced by hopeful expectancy. Shame will lose it’s power over us and we will be loosed to proclaim the goodness of our Savior anew.
Tonight may be a trial. Micah may wake up a dozen times, or may not sleep a wink. You may be in the midst of the most painful season you’ve yet to encounter in life. The next week may look like an impossibility. Take a deep breath. Determine it in your spirit that by the Spirit you will count it all joy. That you will take your eyes of yourself and your circumstances and rejoice in the Lord.
My guess is that we’ll get to the end of this and be amazed at how good God was in the midst of it.