Consider it All Joy
Do you have moments in life when multiple things that you are thinking about and your situation in life converge? At that moment everything seems to be saying the same thing over and over again to you. This week has been one of those weeks for me. I have been stressed with the amount of work on my plate. It has been a struggle to get everything done that needs to get done in a timely fashion. Also, I have been reading the book of James. Then, yesterday, I translated a letter from Bavinck to one of his students (I mentioned one of these letters last week).
Here is how it happened. It is striking how James starts out his book:
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
Count it all joy. In the midst of the pain and suffering of life, James calls on us to count it all joy. How do we count it all joy when we wake up in the morning and feel the aches and pains of our bodies and bones which have been ravaged by sickness and disease? How do we count it all joy when we have little ones that demand all of our time and energy, and we are already exhausted from work? How can we count it all joy when we look at our desk and see work piling up? How can we count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds?
It seems that James is telling us to count it all joy because trials are used to sanctify us. Sanctification is one of those words in Scripture with really fascinating metaphors. The one that always stands out to me is death. Throughout the New Testament when we read about sanctification, we read about dying. The old man is dying away. We need to put to death the old man. It is easy to rush by this type of language, but if we stop and think about it, it should be jarring. What we hear in these passages, is a call to die. Death is never fun or easy. Death is painful and hard. This is what James is getting at when he looks at trials in the life of the Christian. James is telling us that God uses trials to put the old man to death.
In the letter I translated yesterday Bavinck says:
God uses sickness and adversity as excellent teaching means to train us for heaven. In sickness, he turns our souls from the earthly and takes away everything on which we so easily build – our health and powers, our work and diligence – and he draws us to himself so that we would seek our constancy and strength in him. And then when received by us as a messenger of God, the sickness surely gives birth to the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
We have a tendency to want to run from trials and tribulation. We want to run from sickness and disease. That makes sense. This isn't the way the world is supposed to be. Sin has corrupted it and we now suffer. Yet, God uses that suffering in our life to fit us for heaven. He uses the trials and tribulations that we experience here to conform us more and more into the image of his Son.
As James goes on in the book he sets Jesus up as an example in suffering and points the fact that if Jesus suffered, we too must expect suffering in this world. The words of Jesus should ring in our ears as we James say this. We hear: 'In the world you will have tribulation.' Yet we don't stop there. When we encounter the world, when we look to Jesus' suffering, we hear the end of John 16:33: 'But take heart; I have overcome the world.'
This week has been the convergence of a multitude of thoughts, all about trials and tribulation. As I have considered what the Lord is doing in my life and the life of my family, I have realized this is for our good and his glory. As you look at your own trials and tribulations, my prayer is that you will see God's great grace glorified in your life. My prayer is that you will be able to declare with the Apostle Paul:
For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. - Romans 14:8