Consider it Pure Joy: Tough times (Inexpressible Joy #3)

Consider it Pure Joy: Tough times (Inexpressible Joy #3)

To some extent we have all tasted the challenge of going through tough times. Nothing can protect us from such times because they are part-and-parcel of life in this broken world. Even if we have been enjoying a pretty good season of life, the tough times may be only just around the corner. With this in mind, I realise that we will be coming to a topic like this from very different places. Some of us are enjoying the ride while others of us are feeling bruised and hurt. Either way there is much for us to learn here about joy.

It would be all to easy to think that joy and suffering are in conflict with one another. Take a look for instance at Romans 12:12 in which Paul writes: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Affliction here is associated with the need for patience rather joy. This patience however is not passive, but more of an active endurance. Paul says that we are to be joyful in hope. In the Bible, hope is usually focused on the future – specifically our ultimate reward in the New Creation. The things we rejoice and find joy in, are to be rooted in all that God has in store for us. When difficult times do come, we must continue to be patient, joyful and faithful in prayer.

Many of the New Testament writers interweave the topic of suffering with the topic of joy. In this blog we are going to look at three examples arising in letters written by James, Peter and Paul. Through these passages I hope we will see that the common message of the New Testament is that despite circumstances we can still find joy in Jesus.

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The classic text on this is undoubtedly this short section in James 1. The first thing I want you to notice about these verses is that James is working on the assumption that we will face trials. These trials come in many forms and the word trial itself signifies affliction, persecution, or trial of some kind. James is not attempting to be specific here – these words have far reaching applications for us as we face all kinds of tough times:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:2-4, 12

James’ key command says that we should consider it pure joy when we go through such trials. Despite the difficulties arising from the trial we are facing, James wants us to see that they are opportunities for joy. The challenge then is to count or consider these things as pure joy. He is speaking of having a perspective that is joyful irrespective of our circumstances.

I don’t know how you respond to a command to count these tough times as joy. I cannot imagine it being an easy thing to do when we are facing hardship. But James unpacks this with some words of explanation – specifically, he answers the question of why. Look again at v3 where he tells us that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. In time, this perseverance will finish its work of bringing us towards maturity.

All of us are on a journey of faith as we travel through this life. No-one promised it would be easy and God’s clear intention for our lives in Christ is to transform us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Trials play a big part in this journey in order to test us. One scholar has written that “faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials.”

If these trials are inevitable, then we should take heart from Tim Keller’s words here that God gives us a joy that cannot be taken from us. Ultimately, we are talking here about a joy in Christ which transcends anything and everything else. John Piper famously said “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him” (Desiring God). Only when we find our satisfaction in Jesus will we be able to consider our trials as pure joy.

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We’ve already looked at these verses in 1 Peter 1 previously, but I held off on getting too much into Peter’s words on suffering. Like James, Peter also refers to experiencing grief in all kinds of trials. We know of course that the repeated backdrop to the entire letter is the persecution that the scattered church were facing.

Peter begins in v6 by speaking of how we rejoice in what he has been saying about us having new birth into a living hope (v3). Then in v4-5, he speaks about our inheritance which he says is kept safely in Heaven for us. But amidst all that they had to be thankful for, Peter acknowledges that these were tough times for them:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These 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 1:6-7

Peter does not beat around the bush here, but clearly states that their trials had come so that there might be praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Such things will happen as a result of the proven genuineness of our faith. I’ve often heard people say that a faith that hasn’t been tested, cannot be trusted. The fact that faith needs to be tested is not so much because God doesn’t know what kind of faith that we have, but because we ourselves are often ignorant of it. Peter gives the example of gold being refined in the furnace. Faith is tested to reveal its genuineness. Faith is tested in order order to purify it and burn off the dross. Faith is tested so that one day there will be more praise, glory and honour for the one who redeemed us.

As I look back over the past decade there have been a number of major trials that we have had to face: losing loved ones, health struggles, ministry disappointments and opposition to what we have been doing. I can think of one example in particular where I was really forced into the trenches to fight for a ministry that I had been leading for some time. This particular situation involved a number of broken relationships between others. Some people involved really felt that the situation could be redeemed. But after many written words and spoken conversations, God really came through for us in these things. It did wonders for me to see the ways that God used, developed and stretched my faith through this situation.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Our final passage takes us into Paul’s letter to the Romans. Again, we see a radically different perspective as we find Paul writing about glorying in our suffering:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

Wow. These are incredible words that the word therefore makes clear that they come off the back of all that Paul has said in chapters 1-4. In these verses Paul declares that we boast in the hope of the glory of God. That is the ultimate source of our joy. I love the way that Sam Storms puts this when he writes: “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.” Our joy is rooted not in our circumstances, but in Jesus Christ who is ever-present with us. The truth is that there is no water or fire that we will pass through, in which Jesus will not be there alongside us (Isaiah 43:2). His presence with us brings us much joy.

This perspective enables us to glory in our suffering. Why? Paul says that suffering begins this chain reaction which produces perseverance, character and hope. This hope will not disappoint (old NIV) or put us to shame (new NIV), because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts. I think we struggle to understand how to glory in our suffering, because we struggle to boast in the hope of the glory of God. We know Jesus and we love Jesus and experience the joy that He brings into our lives. But does that joy permeate into every aspect of our lives? Does it enable us to keep our eyes on Him and count it as joy regardless what we are facing? As I finish, let me leave you with a quotation from John Piper which puts this really well:

If you are currently facing trials, please know that there is much joy to be had from being in the presence of the one who is right there with us. Please know that He alone is the ultimate source of joy which can never be taken away from us. Please know that one day we will enjoy endless joy and pleasures at His right hand forevermore. If you are not facing trials right now, I suggest that you store up these thoughts for the future…for one day those trials will inevitably come.

See other posts in this series: 

  1. No Greater Joy
  2. The Joy of your Salvation: Living in Grace
  3. Consider it Pure Joy: Tough Times
  4. The Joy of our Hearts: God’s Word
  5. Overflowing Joy: Contentment
  6. Everlasting Joy: New Creation

Cover Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash

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