Experiencing joy during a time of trial may seem like a counter intuitive concept. Trials bring pain. Trials are hard. Trials are messy. How in the world can there be any joy during a trial? Well, thankfully, the answer to that question is found in the Word of God.
There are at least four main texts that I have been using over the past few years to help me deal with various trials and troubles in my own life. I have put them here with some very brief commentary. I believe the texts alone speak with great power but I also think it it helpful to talk through them. My prayer is that this may bring you some measure of comfort and grace when you are faced with trials in your own life.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 1:6-7
In this text Peter is writing to believers who are scattered far away from each other and living in hostile places and being persecuted. And his instruction is startling, he tells them to rejoice in their grief, to rejoice in their trials. Doesn’t that sound strange? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? How can they rejoice when their circumstances are so bad?
They can rejoice because the trials and the grief they are experiencing is being used by God to purify their faith. Their faith is like a valuable piece of raw unrefined gold that has been found but is not yet perfect, it still has some impurities in it, it still has some imperfections. What do you do with that piece of gold? You thrust it into a hot fire melt it and purify it which makes it even more valuable and precious.
It’s a vivid word picture for sure! That’s what trials do, they purify us, they test us, they prove that our faith is genuine, and all of this brings praise glory and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Trials in this word are good because they refine us, they burn away the dross in our life, they take away the impurities, they loosen our grip on this world and help us live for the world to come.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Here it is again, but not from Peter, this time it is Paul and he is telling the Roman Christians that they need to rejoice in their sufferings. How can this be? How is it that someone can rejoice when they suffer? Well, he gives us the answer, we can rejoice when we suffer because we “know” something, he says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing…” You have to know something before you can rejoice when you suffer, you have to remember something, there is a body of truth you need to think about. Rejoicing during suffering doesn’t just happen by accident.
Here is what you need to know: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Suffering produces all of these Christlike characteristics in us. Suffering makes us more like Christ, it molds us into His image. Christ had endurance, Christ had character, Christ had hope and those things are produced in us when we suffer.
There is also a link here to Romans 8 where we learn that God works everything together for our good (v.28), the good the bad the ugly, He’s working it all together for our greatest good. What is this greatest good? The verses that follow Romans 8:28 tell us that the greatest thing that God can do for us is to conform us into the image of His Son, to make us like Him. And back in Romans 5 we see that suffering does just that, it makes us like Jesus.
“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.” James 1:2-4
Here we have yet another writer in the New Testament, James the half-brother of Jesus. Yet, we have a similar theme, joy in trials. James tells us to “count it all joy when we meet various trials”, that seems a hefty task. All joy? How am I supposed to consider it all joy when various trials come?
Well, like Paul, James gives us a list of Christ-like character traits that are produced in us when we rightly endure through a trial. Also like Paul, James tells us that we “know” this, we think about it, we remember these facts, we set our mind on these truths. Again, this does not come natural, we must be diligent to know and remember these truths.
What truths? What truths do I need to know to have joy during a trial? These truths: “…the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Trials produce endurance and steadfastness which bring completion or wholeness. Trials grow us and help us mature. They cause us to become more and more like Christ, that’s why we can count it all joy when we run into them! Because they are being used by God to make us more like Christ.
One final text.
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Here is the final text with the same theme but from still another writer. We do not know with 100 % accuracy who wrote the book of Hebrews, but yet again we see this theme of joy in trials. Jesus for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross and despised the shame. Jesus had joy on the way to the cross, surely the cross was a trial, surely the cross was suffering, surely it involved pain. Yet Jesus considered it all joy. Jesus knew what the cross would accomplish, He knew it would please the Father, He knew it would save sinners, He knew the end goal and because He knew all of this He had joy in the suffering, joy in the trial.
As we have seen above, all four texts connect joy with trials. Trials are difficult to be sure, but when we approach them Biblically, they produce in us Christlike Character traits like the ones listed in Romans 5 and James 1. They refine and purify our faith like in 1 Peter 1. And when we endure and when we meet trials with joy we are acting just like Christ did in Hebrews 12. Trials are tough, they are messy, they are painful but they are also the faithful instrument God uses to bless us and grow us.
For more on trials and temptations see my post on The Difference Between a Trial and a Temptation
Here is a very encouraging song along these lines by Shane and Shane
Grace and Peace