Hang in There! There is Joy in our Suffering
“Consider it pure joy, my friends, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Some days, when life is beating us up left and right, it seems impossible to find things to be joyful. The Bible gives us a different story though. James says that not only is it possible to find things to be joyful about during trials, but it actually commands us to do so! Unfortunately, part of being a Christian means that we will face times of difficulty. Because even though we are Christians, we are still human beings and that’s part of the plan. Jesus went through rough times during His earthly ministry, and if we want to be like Him, (which is what the Christians life is all about), we too will have some hard knocks. The Bible talks about people who endured some really, really tough situations and yet found joy in the midst of their pain. Take Job for example. Now there’s a sad story! He had everything taken away, and he didn’t even do anything wrong! He lost his family, his health, his career, everything he had ever worked for, and he still found things to praise God for (job 1:21). Can you imagine losing everything yet still praising God?
It is clear from this that Christians are expected to experience suffering. We don’t like that fact, but, nevertheless, it is a fact. In his letter to the Philippians 1: 29, Paul puts it very plainly, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,”. So those who think that becoming a Christian will remove them from suffering have been seriously misled and self-deceived, for the Scriptures themselves teach that we are to expect suffering. The Greek word for suffering, basically, is translated as “tribulation, something that causes distress.” It can range from minor annoyances that we go through every day, to major disasters that come sweeping down out of the blue and leave us stricken and smitten. These are the sufferings that we might go through, the tribulations.
According to Romans 5, the Christian response to suffering is to rejoice: “Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings.” Here is where many people balk. They say, “I can’t buy that! Do you mean to say that God is telling me that when I am hurting and in pain, going through mental and physical torment, I am expected to be glad and happy and rejoice in that? What kind of a nut is this Paul, anyway? It’s not human, not natural!” There are many who feel this way.
I believe, we honor God more if we gratefully accept the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full. Can we be grateful for suffering? It’s not rocket science to realize that Christians should be grateful to God all the time, even in the midst of suffering. A more difficult question is whether Christians can be grateful to God for their sufferings. I believe that we could.
Philippians 2: 14-15, Paul tells us that “Do all things without grumbling and questioning that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Paul tells us not to grumble, not to murmur in a setting where there is crookedness and darkness and evil. You can think of a dozen circumstances in your life where it just feels so right and natural to complain and murmur and grumble. And Paul says: Don’t go there. So, what is the opposite of grumbling? — Contentment, peace, and joy. This is a reverse command to do all things with joy, even in circumstances where it would most likely be natural to grumble.
Philippians draws attention to various challenges to joy, such as prison (Philippians 1:13), opponents (Philippians 1:17; 3:2, 18–19), grumbling (Philippians 2:14), and disunity (Philippians 4:2). Paul rejoices in the Lord always, even though he sits in prison, maligned by his enemies, hearing reports of sin and strife among his friends. His joy is not anchored in circumstances but in his Savior, who will never disappoint him and who will surely deliver him.
Therefore, Christian joy is the great pleasure and happiness that we feel — whether or not the sun is shining, whether or not our team is winning, whether or not we are healthy or hurting — because our redeemer lives, because we belong to him, and because he is making all things new. When we encounter challenges, we tend to complain and lose sight of our all-sufficient Savior. We respond like the Israelites who grumbled about food only days after their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 16:1–3). Philippians calls us to rejoice in the Lord always by reframing our present challenges in light of the awesome day of Christ, and to rejoice in God’s people — to take our eyes off of ourselves and pray for and pursue other people’s spiritual maturity and fullness of joy in Christ.
We Christians are to think in a way that enables us to see that Christian joy exists in the midst of our worst circumstances. Remember Paul and Silas? They were suffering – suffering the pain of having been beaten with rods, imprisoned, and their feet locked in stocks. Yet they were singing hymns of praise to God. They had joy in the midst of suffering. Their joy did not replace their suffering any more than their suffering prohibited their joy. For them, joy and suffering became an integrated, unified whole. How? Their joy and suffering were held together by their hope in God. They desired for themselves what He desired for them – which was not immediate release from the pain but the advancement of the Gospel and their own growth in faith and conformity to the image of Christ.
Consider this carefully – it is our faith in God, our confidence in the goodness of God, our willing submission to the will of God, our desiring what God desires – and in the end, God Himself, who as our hope for all things good inseparably unites brokenness with joy and suffering with praise. When the two are tied together by our hope in God, we are able to have joy in the midst of brokenness and thankful praise in the midst of suffering. Wrong thinking, such as black or white type thinking, prevents us from seeing how the two can be united – which in turn keeps us from traveling this path of hope.
The great thing about joy compared to happiness is that joy can’t leave us any more than the Holy Spirit can. It may seem to have disappeared sometimes, but because we are Christians, we have been given the Holy Spirit to continuously work inside of us. Joy is an automatic part of the package! John 15:11 says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Also, Acts 13:52 says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, you and I both know that hard times will come. That’s just life. But for the believer, God promises that those trials have a purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). Let’s look to Him during those difficulties and remember that no trial lasts forever, but our God-given joy does!
Experiencing God’s joy is a choice. During dark days, when we think we just can’t make it another step, let’s remember that Jesus never leaves us no matter what we are going through. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Keep truckin’ in the midst of trouble and remember that even while you are suffering, you are being perfected for a greater purpose. There is a reason for all the hurts and pain. Remember James 1:12 in those tough times, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Hang in there, my good friends! Christ is standing by to hold your hands to walk this difficult journey of this world full of trials and tribulations!