“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”James 1:3-4
The Stay Home orders were handed down more than a month ago, and those orders (at least in California) continue to be extended. The pandemic has affected everyone in various ways:
▪ Have you lost your job or perhaps your job is uncertain after the pandemic ends?
▪ Do you own a business and worry about how you will pay your employees?
▪ Do you have a loved one who is sick?
▪ Are you feeling symptoms of the virus or have you tested positive with COVID-19?
▪ Are you a parent who now has to homeschool your children?
▪ Are you an extrovert and feel drained that you cannot have human contact?
▪ Do you live alone and miss seeing your friends, coworkers, or church family?
▪ Are you facing increased temptations to sin (overeating, anger, pride, bitterness, impatience, laziness, or sexual temptation)?
Fill in the ___________ with your own “various trials” and then think about the statement James makes, “count it all joy.”
Trials help us see our need. God uses different tools to help us to grow and change. One of the tools he often uses are the trials of life. The book of James was written to believers in the midst of their trials and suffering. James told believers to count it “all joy” when they meet (fall into) trials of “various kinds.” We will return to joy in a minute, but first we have to address how God can use trials to help us see our need for spiritual growth.
One of the means of grace for our spiritual growth is the body of Christ. God puts us in a local body of believers for mutual edification so that we may grow up in maturity together (Eph 4:15-16). We meet together to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). This is a unique time in the history of the church where we are not gathering with other believers. The social restrictions placed upon believers (and the entire society) will one day be lifted. A possible temptation during this time is to focus primarily on getting back to “normal” and miss the opportunity to reflect upon areas where we can grow in our spiritual lives. How can God use these present trials to help us grow? I like to think of this as an opportunity to redeem the quarantine.
If you are like me, your first response to the stay at home orders was not “counting it all joy” but rather complaining at the circumstances and looking for a quick exit. The joy that James refers to is not to be happy that we face difficult trials, but to look past the trials and to see the God who is in control of our lives (Rom 8:28). There can be joy in the midst of a pandemic when you understand that God has not changed. In other words, God is still good and has an agenda that is much bigger than fixing our problems; his goal is to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). Yes, the circumstances are difficult, but we can miss the opportunity to grow if we only focus on the circumstances of life.
How we respond to trials says a lot about what we believe about God, what we want or value, and where we place our ultimate hope. Difficult circumstances have a way of exposing what is on the inside, revealing areas where we need to grow. James is calling us to something greater than relief from trials, he calls us to joy in the midst of trials because we trust in a God who is still in control and cares for his children.
Trials turned upside down. James says that trials test our faith which lead to steadfastness (or endurance). Ultimately, God is in control of our trials and the length of time they will last. How we respond to the various trials around us makes all the difference. We cannot always change our circumstances, but we can change our response to the circumstances. How can we find joy in the midst of the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in?
The pandemic has turned life upside down, but God has not changed:
God is still sovereign, wise, good, loving, patient, and kind.
God is still faithful; his grace and mercy are new daily.
God is still in control, over every atom of the universe.
We can endure with joy if our mind is reoriented toward God’s character rather than the latest news conference. This endurance is not grit it out with your teeth and you will get through this. Instead, this trial can be used to draw you to a greater dependence on the Lord.
How will you respond? There is no shortcut to spiritual growth and God can use this pandemic to help us grow. My encouragement to you is to not waste this trial. Call out to the Lord to help you. Ask the Lord what he is trying to teach you. Confess any sins that have been exposed (attitudes and actions) and rest in his promise to forgive you (1 John 1:9).
Finally, let me encourage you that the Lord cares for you and wants you to draw near to him.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”Hebrew 4:14-16
This is an opportunity for all of us to grow as we trust in the Lord one day at a time. Don’t waste this pandemic but redeem the quarantine. Instead of thinking about the joy you will have when this trial has ended, ask the Lord to help you find joy today in the midst of the trial.
Roger Bayramian is the Controller at Children’s Hunger Fund in Sylmar, Ca. He serves as an elder and counselor at Mt. Ararat Bible Church in Northridge for whom this post was originally written. Roger will graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Doctorate in Biblical Counseling on May 15, 2020.