…[C]onsider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials….
–James 1:2 NET
Dictionaries define joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Not really a bad definition of such an intangible and sometimes elusive life quality. Unless…
Paul had a very different take on joy. Notice, he says in 2 Corinthians 7:4 (ESV), “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” Could you say that? I would struggle to see joy in the context of affliction. It certainly doesn’t show up in very many Facebook feeds of Christians commenting on the turmoil society faces today. I know I’m tempted to mouth off at times when I see or hear something that strikes at the heart of my beliefs.
Sure, James tells us to consider it nothing but joy (a gift) when suddenly surrounded by all sorts of distresses from every side (James 1:2, my paraphrase). But how is that possible when it feels like we are barely keeping our heads above water? When surrounded by struggle, stresses, and gripped by protective anger or fear, joy is not something I even consider, much less actually feel in the moment.
However, for both Paul and James, though James is more explicit, struggle is an opportunity…for what? Becoming! Let me explain. I had a wrestling coach that saw something in me I couldn’t see. He thought I’d make a good wrestler. So, he wrestled me “up.” I practiced with heavier weight classes and in matches he pitted me against guys bigger than me. Of course, my first year’s ranking was at the bottom of the list. I’m pretty sure I lost every match. It appeared I had a bad coach, yet he insisted I trust him. Well, you guessed it, the next season he wrestled me in my weight class and my record changed drastically. My coach believed in me, wanted more for me, and set about making it happen. What I thought of as a waste of a good resource was really a matter of shaping and honing the resource that he had in me. My job was to trust and submit to the process.
So, what’s my point? If joy is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), maybe it’s our perspective on the circumstances that determine our experience of that implanted joy. The source of our joy is supernatural, our experience of it is a matter of perspective, and the context could actually be a matter of us becoming more of who we are meant to be. How is this a context for joy? We will be looking at this question in the coming posts.
ACTION: What troubling circumstances might you be facing right now that really call for trust and submitting to a process you can’t quite understand right now? Rather than trying to feel some kind of joy because of the struggle, what could it look like to “consider it all joy” (a gift) that you are even faced with struggle? Take time today to thank God for giving you joy, even though you may not feel much joy; thank him for being your deepest source of joy.