It was the week before Christmas. The phone rang, but my trembling fingers hesitated to pick it up. I looked down at my newborn son in the darkness of the late hour, clinging to the last moment of ignorance. I knew in a split second news from the emergency room would rock my world, for better or worse.
After hitting “accept,” my husband’s voice on the other side of the line confirmed my greatest fear—our two-year-old daughter had cancer.
Little can prepare one for such a shock, a sole exception being the sufficient Word of our Lord.
For there, James reminds us: “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, ESV)
Even as tears soaked my face that long December night, this was one passage that soothed my soul. With it, God assures us that His sovereign, loving hand uses every trial—no matter what shape or size—to make us “perfect and complete.”
Trials constantly place us outside our comfort zone. And what a soul-stretching blessing that is, because it’s outside our comfort zone where real Christlikeness can grow. It’s where faith is proven real, going depths previously unexplored and filling with Jesus until “lacking nothing.”
In the weeks that followed that call God sharpened our belief like never before, as we floated between the split worlds of hospital and home, held our child in her most fragile moments, and fully entrusted her health to Him.
Every gritty moment weaved tighter together our theology, pointing us again and again to Christ’s daily, hourly, minutely faithfulness. Though uncertainty and exhaustion defined our days, we began to see our definitions of joy and goodness grow stronger and inseparable from God.
Remember that curious part of James’s verse: “count it all joy.”
His wording suggests that joy is an intentional act—not sourced from our uncontrollable circumstances but from trusting our unchanging Savior in them.
In order for us to treasure His love more deeply and to serve Him more freely, the Lord often uses trials to challenge every sense of normalcy we have. Above our health, our work, our housing situation, our children, or any other thing we live by, He desires that Christ become our only “normal,” our sense of joy.
This is where blessing is found. Suffering implores us to seek the everlasting beauty and power of our Savior.
Though “counting it joy” is not always natural or pretty, it’s possible as the Spirit pours into our desperate hearts hope in the promises of Christ.
As my husband and I fought for joy in Jesus, He worked it in us, “producing steadfastness.” The Greek word for steadfastness, hypomonē, is also translated as endurance and patience—a heart that cheerfully waits upon the Lord.
When situations are disappointing or downright difficult, we rest knowing they are redeemable and meaningful in the plans of our all-good God. Unexpected or heart-wrenching moments are not an excuse for sin or for self-pity, but a reason for running to the throne of our Heavenly Father desperate for a new wave of grace.
Our discomfort shouts our need for Him and the wondrous truth that He can and will meet that need. It drives us to our knees in dependence and surrender, to a richer intimacy with Him we easily neglected when all was well.
Joy miraculously blooms in that rocky place of trusting Him more and more, becoming a testimony to the world.
Part of this joy process is sanctification. Affliction can be a chisel the Spirit wields to shave off our pride, self-sufficiency, and idols, and lead us into sacred worship and service of the great I AM. The pain of His work is real and raw, but it leads to the sparkling purity of righteousness in our hearts.
“Counting it joy” often involves wrestling with our flesh in order to put fears or doubts to death, realizing they no longer control us because of Jesus’s victory, a victory won after his own suffering on the cross. He models the glory of suffering best of all, showing us that pain isn’t the end of our story.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
“Counting it joy” is letting go of what we think life should be, and leaving our comfort zone to take another precious step toward Jesus. He’ll meet us in that hard space, His love proved ever abounding.
All this testing, while at times messy and tearful, eventually leads to “its full effect” (v. 4) of repentance, growth, and renewed faith in Christ’s sufficiency. Our faith leaves the refining fire humbled, yet shimmering with praise.
Romans 5:3-4 explains this also, saying “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
The character of Christ and hope of Christ are on the other side of our suffering for Christ, and for that reason we can rejoice.
Without Christ, our trials in this broken world would appear as dead ends. Worthless. Hopeless. But with Christ, with the Spirit training and emboldening us, there is eternal hope in them. There is eternal life beginning to be realized, as this momentary affliction prepares us for coming glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Sister, whatever trial you find yourself in, you can be assured you are being made complete in Christ (Hebrews 10:14). God is using it to give you faith more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6).
Praise God, that “of his own will” and “by the word of truth” (James 1:18) these walks outside our comfort zones can lead to greater life, instead of spiritual death.
We can faithfully endure trials, welcoming life outside our comfort zones with this truth in mind: “Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that Godhas promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, CSB)