Have you ever taken James 1 a little too far? I know, you are probably thinking I am crazy. But seriously, have you ever done it? Here is what James 1:2-4 says,
“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.”
God has a lot to say about suffering in Scripture (1 Pet. 1:6-7; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:8-12, 17-18; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; Heb. 11:36-38; Heb. 12:5-11). Namely that he allows suffering for the purpose of making us more like Christ, refining our faith, and yielding a harvest of righteousness, that the suffering we experience on this earth can’t even come close to matching the glory of heaven, and that God is glorified in our suffering. God often uses suffering to pry our hands off the fierce grip we have on this world so that we turn to Him and hope for heaven.
Unfortunately sometimes this is not how I view suffering. Let me explain. Oftentimes in my head I think because something is hard that means it is good. Because I know that suffering is good for me, I equate hardness with goodness. Which can be true, but not always. Let me share with you a few ways I continue to have to correct my own thinking in this area.
1. I do not have to choose what is harder just for the sake of it being hard. Choosing something that is hard is not necessarily godly. We don’t have to go looking for suffering, God will bring it. (This also doesn’t mean that I pursue ease and comfort, but that is an entirely different issue).
2. I do not have to pretend that things that are hard are not hard. Just because the outcome of suffering is always good, that doesn’t mean the process is pleasant. Hebrews 12 candidly speaks about how discipline from the Lord seems unpleasant at the time! It is true that often my greatest sufferings feel like the lightest burdens because of God’s grace. There have been times when in the face of some of the greatest difficulties I have been able to sincerely rejoice in Psalm 103 and “forget none of His benefits.” That’s not pretending. But there are times when suffering genuinely feels hard. Just because we know that God is sovereignly working all things for our good and His glory doesn’t mean we understand or see what he is doing or believe in His promises in that moment. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes to understand, sometimes it takes 10 years to understand, and sometimes it takes a lifetime. So the tears may flow and the hurt may continue and the pressure may mount but denying those feelings isn’t the answer– running to God with them is.
3. God is not a kill joy in the sky. I believe wholeheartedly in God’s goodness, but often I find myself having a very pessimistic attitude about God’s will for my life. I assume that He won’t give me any joys, any pleasures, or any comforts because that just wouldn’t be hard! If I want something I assume I won’t get it. If I want a job, or want to be married, or want to have children, or want to do missions, or want to serve in a specific way, or want to feel close to God, or want long life or good health, or godly friendships, He won’t give those to me. Not because they are bad things but because they are things that I desire. And it will be a great lesson to me if I don’t get what I desire. This is primarily where my thinking is wrong. God is not opposed to giving His children good gifts. In fact it’s just the opposite, every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). Psalm 37:4 promises that God will give us the desires of our heart when we delight ourselves in Him. Romans 8:32 argues that since God has already given us the greatest gift in sacrificing His beloved Son on the cross for our sins, what is he going to hold back from us now? He’s not about to get stingy with us. If that’s not enough, listen to this staggering promise from Jeremiah 32:40-41:
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”
God promises that He will not turn away from doing us good, and that He rejoices in doing us good, and that he will do this with His entire heart and His entire soul. I can’t think of a more powerful force than the entire heart and soul of God pursuing after something. In this case it’s our good (which, according to this passage our good is to fear God and not turn from Him). Because of this I don’t believe that life is perfect, or easy, or comfortable. I also don’t believe that life is hard, miserable, and joy-less. God gives us good gifts because they serve us as shadows of His infinite goodness! As Jonathan Edwards said,
“Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean. . . . Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?”
I encourage you today to rest in God’s wise and bright designs, and find all your joy and satisfaction in Him.