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“Joy is a Choice”
James 1:1-8, 12
April 26, 1998
Matt and Jamie were new to our church.
That’s not their real name, but that’s what I’ll call them this morning.
They had recently moved to our community from Southern California and decided to drop by simply because they liked a quote they had seen on the sign out front.
It was easy to be drawn to Matt and Jamie: bright, energetic, warm, but most of all they were hungry for spiritual things.
Jamie had been raised a Catholic, Matt a Protestant, but neither of them had ever been more than nominal Christians.
But since they had moved, they had been talking about getting more involved in church.
The transition seemed like a great opportunity to make a fresh start.
Several months after they began attending, they shared with us that they desperately wanted to have children, but that the doctors had told them that their chances of conceiving were very remote.
For years, they had been trying every new fertility treatment that came along, but nothing was successful.
Our people began to pray for them, and miraculously, they conceived a few months later.
I’ll never forget the night I went over to speak to Matt and Jamie at our mid-week program, and Jamie was just glowing.
I asked her how she was doing, and she said, “We couldn’t be better.
The doctors told us that the first trimester was the most critical stage.
They said that if we made it through the first three months, the chances of carrying the baby to term were significantly higher.
Yesterday was the end of the first trimester.”
The very next day I came into the office after visiting the hospitals and the secretary had a worried look on her face.
She said, “Keith, Matt and Jamie had a doctor’s appointment today, and Jamie’s lost the baby.
They’re on the way over here right now, and they were hoping you would get here soon.”
When they came into the office, it was obvious that they were devastated.
And in the end they asked the inevitable question.
Not just why does God not give us a baby.
We had almost accepted the fact that we would have to adopt.
But why did God allow us to get pregnant, build up our hopes so much, and then…this?”
Count it all Joy
We’ve all heard that simple question in times of trial and difficulty, and many of us have asked it.
Why does God allow us to go through those difficult times when our lives are disrupted and our faith is stretched to the limit?
I just began reading a book this week called /God at War/.
And in it the author makes the point that the tendency to ask “why” is a relatively recent trend.
He says that in the early days, Christians had a much deeper understanding of the nature of spiritual warfare, and they expected to encounter difficulties.
So they didn’t try so much to analyze their trials.
They simply sought to overcome them with God’s help.
And that appears to be what James is encouraging his readers to do in these first few verses of his letter.
He isn’t surprised by their suffering.
He doesn’t say, “If you encounter trials…” He says, “When you encounter various trials this is what you should do.”
And what he tells them to do is a little surprising.
He says, “Count it all joy…”
Now let’s go back to Matt and Jamie for a moment.
It may be a little troubling to us, but what this scripture tells us is that if James had known Matt and Jamie, somehow he would have said, “Count it all joy.”
Now, I am confident he would not have said it in those first few moments.
He would have wept with them just as I did.
In those first few days when the pain is so intense and agonizing, all we can do is try to help bear the burden.
But at some point in his ministry to Matt and Jamie- when the time was right, he would have said, “Count it all joy.”
He says it right here to Christians who were going through similarly painful difficulties of their own.
And the fact that it comes in only the second verse highlights the urgency with which he says it.
Generally, when we write a letter, we begin with the lighter stuff and then kind of ease into the more difficult matters later on in the later.
But James doesn’t do that.
There’s a one line greeting and then he abruptly tackles the issue of trials.
It’s important to note that James is not casually saying, “I know you’ve had a tough time and I hope you’re doing OK.”
There is a very real sense of urgency in James words.
You see, James was writing to a group of people who were being persecuted.
Many of them were poor and suffering injustice at the hands of the rich.
Some were facing the prospects of martyrdom because of their conversion to Christianity.
In fact, it wasn’t long after this letter was written that James himself was put to death because of his commitment to Christ.
So when James spoke of trials, he didn’t do so lightly.
He fully understood the severity of the trials that his readers were facing.
I make this point because I want to avoid a common misconception in some Christian circles regarding trials.
And this is one of the most important insights of this passage.
James is not saying here: “Oh boy, you’re in the midst of a tremendous trial.
Isn’t this fun?”
And yet, I’ve seen a number of Christians respond in that way.
Their life may be falling apart, but they put on a great big smile and pretend that everything is wonderful.
In fact, they won’t even acknowledge the reality of the trial.
They’ve been taught that this is a lack of faith, so they adopt as their life motto the title of that deep and profound song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Friends, James is not saying to us, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
He is not talking about a state of emotion that naturally arises out of the circumstances, but about a posture of joy that is chosen by the believer.
A posture of joy that is rooted in faith.
You see, emotions are like the waves of the sea, tossed to and fro by every wind that comes along.
Joy is like the deep currents of the ocean that remain stable and undeterred by the conditions above.
This is what James is talking about.
His words are not given as a statement of fact that we will somehow enjoy trials just because we are Christians.
They are given as words of command: “Count it all Joy!”
He is saying, “When you encounter various trials, choose to take a posture of joy rather than a posture of bitterness or anger or defeat.”
So you see, James’ words are not a shallow, glib call to denial.
Rather they are powerful words of encouragement.
They are words of hope.
And that’s why he would have found a way in the right time to say to Matt and Jamie, “Dear brother and sister, in the midst of your pain, count it all joy.”
And he would say the same thing to each one of us who are also facing trials in our life.
But James would say more than that, and for this we can be thankful.
Because he goes on to give us very specific words of advice about how to take this posture of joy in the midst of trial.
He gives us three very tangible ways that we can choose joy.
Rest in the Providence of God
And the first thing that he says is that we must rest in the providence of God.
He says in verses 2-4:
“Count it all joy when you encounter various trials/, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing/.”
You see, joy in the Bible is always rooted in something beyond itself.
The shepherds rejoiced because the angels brought them word of the birth of the Messiah.
In Acts, the whole city rejoiced because of the miracles that were taking place.
In Revelation, there is great rejoicing because the Lord has come.
Here in James we can choose joy in the midst of trial because we know God will use it for our good.
Let me share something with you that I uncovered in my studies of trial in the Bible.
This may be a little technical, but stay with me.
I assumed that I would find two very distinct Greek words: one that denoted trials used by God, and another that denoted trails brought on by Satan.
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