The book of James begins with the astonishing declaration “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” But how is one supposed to rejoice in difficult times? The answer is not within the realm of human ability or understanding. This how, rather, is a God-given capacity to endure, trust and obey even when we are preyed upon by enemy powers in multiple fronts as they come at us forcefully and concurrently. Since it comes from God, this capacity is not a function of human merit. If it were we would most certainly fail the test given our sinful condition; condition that is in diametrical opposition to a spirit of submission to God’s will, confidence in His promises and readiness to obey His word. Hence, for us to do the how of “counting it all joy” we must, in a sense, rid ourselves of ourselves and ask God to take control of our hearts, minds and souls as we operate in a world that is, perhaps more than ever before, centered on the self without much regard for God and fellow men.
As A.W. Tozer puts it, “while we are looking at God, we do not see ourselves – blessed riddance.” Therefore, how we perform as we “fall into various trials” depends on where we look and whom we behold. If we look at us we will not find much hope for we know not if we will be able to endure the trials. Yet if we look to God’s word we shift from the hopelessness of our finite predicament as we come to terms with the fact that even though we do not know what the future holds, He who holds our future in the hollow of His hand has already set plans concerning us. Plans, as Jeremiah 29:11 states, “to prosper us and not to harm us; plans to give us hope and a future”.
Only by looking to Jesus Christ can we, by His grace, finish the race as we traverse this fallen world speaking His Truth and living out His word. That is exactly what the author of Hebrews refers to in the first two verses of the twelfth chapter of said book:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
After reading this passage of scripture one realizes that “to count it all joy” even in the face of many trials, merely glancing at Jesus Christ will not do. If we are to endure life’s tribulations in a biblical fashion, we ought to behold Jesus Christ with utter fixation; knowing by faith and through faith that He is the way, the truth and the life. Should we turn our eyes from Him and look elsewhere, even but for a millisecond, we make our hearts susceptible to following our natural proclivity to doubt. And if we do so we will drown in our many trials just like Peter, after having walked above them through faith, fell through the waters from one moment to the next. Why did Peter fall through? Because he looked away from Jesus and looked at size and strength of the storm that surrounded him. By shifting focus from the supernatural to the natural, Peter doubted his ability to walk on water and, in the same breath, was deprived of that ability. This because he focused on him, a mere mortal. In other words, he became disconnected from the supernatural power supply and began to rely on his ability to overcome the trial. And on his own he could not do much for, as thus said the Lord toward the end of John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” A corollary to this statement is found in Philippians 14:13 wherein the apostle Paul states “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The how “to count out all joy”, then, is clearly outside of us. It is in Him who is above us and can, through his Holy Spirit, live in us and act through us. But for His Spirit to indwell and operate in and from us we must first acknowledge our inadequacy and in acknowledging our inability we must, as a natural next step, repent of our arrogance; that which led us into thinking we could manage by ourselves without God’s approval or aid. Having done this, we must act confidently; being strong and courageous as we trust in His promise that He will neither “leave us nor forsake us”.