Choose Joy

This January our church started working through the book of James and it has been challenging, CONVICTING, and transforming. Every Sunday afternoon, a group of us meet to discuss the sermon and put specific thought into how we individually can apply James to our lives. One question we discussed in response to James 1 was particularly tough, but it was, no doubt, very transforming to many of us…

How do we count trials as a joy?

James 1:2–4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

At first glance this may seem simple, but, as most of us know, it’s VERY hard to do. However, unless we understand what God is saying here we can completely miss what it means to “count it all joy.”

Let’s clarify what joy is

Defining joy, biblically, is very important. Joy is not a feeling of pleasure, a personality trait (some are more naturally “bubbly” than others), a positive thinking approach or playing mental games to produce a certain outcome.

In Galatians 5:22, joy is identified as a natural outflow of a life submitted to the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” John MacArthur defines joy this way: “Biblical joy is the experience of well-being that springs from the deep-down confidence that God is in perfect control of everything, for my good and his glory.”

Truth is irrelevant until it is lived out

In the midst of writing this, just yesterday God lovingly decided to see if I would choose joy as he brought an unexpected test. I received some news that quickly brought me to tears. Instantly my mind went back to an intensely painful time my family went through just three years ago. Unstable feelings and gut wrenching hurts came flooding back and although I knew better, I allowed my thinking to run amuck and I did not submit my mind to what I knew to be true about God’s sovereign control and deep love.

We are instructed in Colossians 3:16 to let God’s Word dwell richly (be at home) in our hearts so that when truth is needed it is already a part of our thinking and beliefs. But even though truth saturates my mind daily, I have to CHOOSE it. Truth is irrelevant until it is lived out.

Rather than encouraging myself to trust the goodness of God in that moment, I chose to listen to and believe lies. God’s promises were NOT my focus nor the anchor of my mind even though I knew they should be! I overlooked all of God’s past faithfulness, provision and protection and I fed thoughts of discontentment and fear as I questioned and complained to God about my situation.

Submit to the Spirit and fix your thoughts on Truth

When we are submitted to the Spirit we make a conscious commitment to embrace truth and fight against our flesh which desires to simmer in the pain and worry about the future. In some bizzare way it “feels” good to simmer. I think we actually believe it helps or that we are justified to do this.

But thinking like that is sin and must be repented of. The truth is we are commanded to count trials joy. Trials produce steadfastness (James 1:3). I know that truth. Most everyone I counsel “knows truth.” But knowing does nothing for growth. Taking hold of truth and applying it, despite how we are feeling, is what transforms. Pursuit of joy is bound up in faithfulness and faithfulness requires effort.

God calls us to be thinking people who process everything in life through a biblical lens. THIS IS THE BATTLE! The battle is a fight to count it joy by dying to the desires of the flesh that prompt us to complain, fear and question his goodness. Yes, it takes effort and seems endless at times to keep our thinking like Christ’s but God gives us the will and the way to do it (Philippians 2:13).

Check your readiness for honoring God in suffering with joy. How you respond to life’s trials says a lot about your view of God:

  • Where does responding in a God-honoring way begin? In our BELIEFS. In our thinking.

  • Do your feelings control you? Beware of your feelings. Preach truth to your mind DESPITE feelings. Oppose lies and expose them.

  • What does your mind focus on in times of trials? What the heart thinks on will have direct and immediate impact on your behavior.

  • How do you respond to God inwardly when you suffer? We handle trials poorly because of our poor inner responses to them. We have poor inner responses to them because we really don’t trust God nor are we in awe of him.

  • What is your default response to trials? We are “creatures of habit.” Unfortunately that means for many that when trouble comes,we fall apart, get angry or do whatever we have learned to do over and over habitually.

Remember that…

  1. Trials are for our spiritual growth and Christlikeness:

    • James 1:2–3: “Count it all joy, …for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

    • Romans 5:3–4: “… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

  2. God is in control and cares:

    • James 5:11: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. … you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

  3. Christ understands:

    • Hebrews 12:2: “… looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”

    • Hebrews 4:15: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…”

  4. We have responsibilities and must CHOOSE: God says I can KNOW that my faith being tested will make me more Christlike, but I have a part to play in that growth/change. What responsibility do I have to make this happen?

    • Recognize it takes work to think biblically (Philippians 2:12)

    • Think rightly – RENEW your mind (Romans 12:1–2)

    • Guard the mind (Proverbs 4:23)

    • Direct the mind (Romans 12:2, Colossians 1:3 )

    • Submit to the Spirit (Galatians 5)

    • Be submissive to the Word (John 17:17)

    • Cast your cares on him (1 Peter 5:7)

    • Say NO to sinful thoughts and responses (Romans 6)

Reflection questions

  1. If you are going through a trial, will you glorify God by choosing to trust and submit to his Word? Though it may seem hard, you can push through feelings and fight for joy. Your earthly circumstance is never the basis for your joy–Christ is.

  2. If you are not currently in a trial what will you do NOW to prepare your mind for when the trials do come? How will you be controlled by truth? Grow in your awe of God? Trust in him? Satisfaction in him?

James tells us why we are to consider our trials with joy. One thing you can be assured of, God will test us to exposure our hearts. Are you ready? Will you respond with a deep-down confidence that God is in perfect control of everything, for your good and his glory?

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota, serves on the Council Board of the Biblical Counseling Alliance, and is a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology Studies from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minnesota and a MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana.

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