This interview is condensed and excerpted from episode 42 of Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef. Listen today on your favorite podcast platform or online.
It's one of the hardest things for a Christian to believe: that God is working in and through our pain for a good and holy end.
Recently I was thinking of how to speak into this global pandemic we're facing, and something that kept coming to mind is that we are all facing some sort of trial. In James 1:2, the apostle James says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, . . ." Now what does that mean? Surely it's not about plastering a smile on your face or [denying] reality. It has to do with how you view your trial and its purpose. The key to all of this is asking ourselves what our goal in life is. As people who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, as people who have placed our trust in the work of Jesus on the cross, the goal for us is spiritual maturity. James 1:4 says, ". . . so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Because here's the reality about our faith: It's not a class that you take and then receive a certificate to hang on the wall. . . . It is a growing faith. It's about maturity. It's about discipleship. It's about taking what we have received—that free gift of grace that Christ offers us, our justification, which gives us a right standing before God—and then moving forward in sanctification.
And the pathway to maturity, James says, comes through trials and testing. I wish I could tell you it was through something else. I wish it was just through reading Scripture. But in God's perfect design, in God's perfect plan, He uses trials and testing to develop perseverance (see James 1:2-4). And the terrain in which that pathway [to maturity] goes is the "trials of many kinds," which we are to consider pure joy (see v. 2). It's one of the hardest things for a Christian to believe: that God is working in and through our pain for a good and holy end. That's why James, Peter, Paul, and other New Testament writers go out of their way to discuss how we are to handle these trials. They know these realities are a part of life on earth, so they tell us to keep in mind the end result. The purpose of the test is not to make you fail; it is to refine you. It's like that refiner's gold that Peter writes about: "These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7). It is so that the dross—the unnecessary things in our lives—would be stripped away, and that the pure gold—the thing which is of value, our faith—remains.
James 1:5 says that if we are lacking wisdom, we are to ask for it from the God whose nature is to give. This is part of the character of our God that we need to know and understand because facing trials without a gracious God would be absolutely disastrous. There will never be a time when we come to God and find that He is no longer gracious towards us, no longer forgiving those with a truly broken heart, no longer willing to pour out His blessings on His servants.
In this passage of Scripture, we see the contrast between those who are asking for God's help and growing in patience and perseverance through the trials they face and those who are impatient. Impatience is a childish tool that leaves us incomplete and immature in our faith—and the impatient Christian, the untested Christian, is an unstable Christian (see James 1:6-8).
You may feel like you don't have the wisdom to persevere in the middle of trials and pain. If that is the case, James says not only to ask for it but to ask in faith that is patiently trusting God. That's what perseverance means: trusting God in the midst of pain. If we don't have that trust, it's like we're a bottle on the waves of the ocean. We're bobbing up and down, moving in no real direction. There's no trajectory; we're unstable, we're double-minded. The word that's used there is not just that you're two-minded; it's actually as if you had two hearts. On the one hand, you trust in God; on the other hand, you don't. On the one hand, you resolve to be patient; on the other hand, you're jumping to your own conclusions. There's instability, there's foolishness, there's weakness. You're childish in the faith.
If your goal is to be spiritually mature, the benefits of your trial will be great. Otherwise, you will just be pushed around by the waves, with absolutely nothing to guide you. These things are what we call a means of grace—a means by which God is bringing forth fruitfulness from your soul. We are His handiwork, and the pain by which He molds us and shapes us is only for a moment, that we may be renewed in the image of Christ Himself.
Consider it pure joy. If we align ourselves with Scripture, there is an entire revolution of thinking that is called for. Holiness, sanctification, and victory over sin [are God's gifts to us, but they] don't become ours instantaneously. Rather, the road is uphill and thorny. The benefits that He promises are difficult to achieve; they are hard won; and the progress is painfully made—only to repeat the process over and over.
Consider it pure joy. And so we ask ourselves, is this what James is actually teaching? If it is, then Scripture has spoken, and our duty and privilege is to reform our thinking in light of God's Word. But even more deeply, and with greater privilege, is this not the way that our Savior went forward in His glory? And if it was the way of our Lord and Savior, should we not follow as His servants?
Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, for this develops the mature Christian, and the mature Christian perseveres, knowing that this pleases the Lord. This light affliction is only for a moment, and it is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you in whatever trial you may be facing—maybe even recalling a past situation that you've gone through. Maybe it's something that's coming down the path. But we need to remember what Christ went through.
We need to remember what Scripture calls us to, that these things are for our good and ultimately for God's glory. And so, with that perspective, with that mentality in mind, we are able to face these trials in a different way. We are able to look back on our failures in a different light, and we are able to see the glory of God and the grace of God so much more clearly so that we can consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.
How has God demonstrated His faithfulness to you? Whatever season you may find yourself in, spend time praising Him through these powerful psalms.
Psalm 9:1-10 – Remember His Wonderful Works
Psalm 33 – Rejoice in His Sovereignty
Psalm 34:1-8 – Praise Him for His Faithfulness
Psalm 86:8-13 – Thank Him for His Love
Psalm 103 – Rest in His Goodness