Consider it Joy
The book of James begins with this bit of encouragement:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
James deals with a number of different issues through his letter, and we may be tempted to think that the issues are completely unrelated. They are not. What ties them together is this basic idea: they all deal with various forms of trials and difficulties that would be faced by Christians. Thus he begins by speaking of basic attitudes regarding any of these trials that would be coming, and he begins with joy.
Telling someone to count it all joy when facing trials may seem a bit odd to us. Don’t trials produce anxiety? Don’t they produce despair? Don’t they make us unhappy? Of course, joy here is not talking about being happy in the sense of momentary feelings of jubilation. He is not talking about “enjoying” the trials, as if we relish the thought of going through them. Biblical joy is much more steadfast in nature and grounded in our relationship with God. Paul, throughout his difficulties and persecutions, could “rejoice in the Lord” through his relationship to God (Phil. 4:4), not because the trials themselves were pleasant. Being “in the Lord” makes all the difference in the world.
Here we have an occasion for joy because of what the outcome of the trials can produce in us as we patiently endure. It is not that we are seek out trials. They will come in many forms without our trying to find them. However, the key is that we need to take the longer view and see that trials can work to our benefit if we seek out God's wisdom (vs. 5). That can be difficult in the actual moment of the trial, but this is why we need to prepare our minds before those trials come.
Now notice what we are called upon to do as we face various difficulties:
1. Consider. Considering requires reflection and thought. Think about the difficulties you encounter and how they will help you in the long run.
2. Know. Knowing shows a sense of confidence about the outcome of what those trials produce. James tells us that “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Endurance is patience or steadfastness, and patience is a key to all growth and maturity. The author of Hebrews reminds us that our race is one that needs to be run with endurance (Heb. 12:1-2). This requires that we take that long view of life and service to God. We can this with confidence, knowing that patience will help us grow in God's grace and knowledge.
3. Let. Have a submissive spirit to the outcome of the trials. The idea is to let the results of your trials play out. The end result of endurance is that we can be completed and lack nothing.
4. Ask. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (vv. 5-8).
There seems to be a contrast here between someone who is “unstable” with a person of faith having “endurance” or steadfastness. Those who hang in there and show endurance are those who have demonstrated their faith. They, in turn, are also rewarded with God’s wisdom (as it would imply that they are seeking out God’s help). But one who doubts has no stability and will therefore have no patience. How can this person expect anything from God? The one who doubts is double-minded. He has lost his focus, perhaps looking more at the trials themselves rather than on the outcome intended by God. We all know that those who live in such doubt cannot have any lasting joy.
God’s wisdom is attainable, but we cannot think to attain it without God’s help. We must ask Him with the knowledge that God will come to our aid. There is no room for the “God if you are there” kind of prayer, as such would indicate the type of doubt that cannot support faith.
This prayer is one more thing that ties together the book of James, for in the last chapter James comes back to the prayer of faith (5:15). All trials should be wrapped up in faith and prayer. No matter what we face, God will face it with us and grant us His wisdom and grace.