Choose Joy In The Difficult Journey

As 2016 came to a close, I gathered with a few ladies I disciple to share our “Gratitude & Goals” lists. We each identified ten things we were grateful for in the past year and listed ten goals and hopes we entrusted to the Lord for the year ahead.

Our gratitude lists varied, from expressing thankfulness for our salvation, our churches, and our pastors to the things we often take for granted, like our health, food, clothing, and shelter. As the ladies shared, I couldn’t help but think of the apostle and his word to believers in James 1:

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 (vv. 2–4).

“It’s Making Me Need Jesus!”

Among the group was one sister who has a master’s degree, is highly skilled in children’s education, is faithfully serving our church, and who endured a long period of unemployment. The Lord was kind to give her part-time work in a clothing store earning minimum wage and some babysitting jobs, but she wasn’t gainfully employed for over a year. Yet she was thankful.

The Lord used this time to reveal that her faith was misplaced and she hadn’t made Him—but her job—her source of security. She was blessed to be able to trust the Lord in a way she hadn’t before. Consequently, after about eight months of applying for job after job after job and getting interview after interview after interview but no offers, a light bulb went off. She realized, “This is actually good for me. It’s making me need Jesus!”

For His Glory

Another sister works closely with a small staff where she is the only Christian. Her boss is extremely arrogant and insensitive. The “water cooler” conversations are often worldly and raw, all the employees are overworked, and it’s a very competitive atmosphere. Yet she was thankful.

She’s worked there for almost three years, and although she has been praying and pursuing other employment, the Lord always leads her back to a place of being thankful for this job. She knows she has to submit to her boss, regardless of his disposition; she knows she is called to create an atmosphere of unity despite the competition and that she is to work ultimately as unto the Lord. Despite being in a difficult workplace, she knew the Lord had placed her there and that He intended to use it for her good and for His glory . . . and so she rejoiced.

Finding Strength Through Weakness

I just ended a five-year season of being the primary caretaker for my mother who had dementia. During that time, I also took a bigger role in the care of my dad who has some physical health challenges and a bit of dementia, too. I haven’t made much money these past couple of years, as caring for my parents more required me to work less. My business had dwindled to just a couple of regular clients. Yet I thanked God for it all.

This long season revealed my weaknesses, like my lack of patience and how little I knew about unconditional love. But I watched the Lord grow me in those areas, strengthening me to love as Christ had loved me and helping me not to get weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9). As hard as it has been, I was able to see the Lord’s strength operate perfectly in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I was able to really honor my parents and therein honor the Lord. Wonderful fruit was produced in this valley, and despite the challenges, my joy was full!

Why You Can Rejoice Through Trials

You, too, may have come through a year that was hard. Maybe it’s been the last two, five, or ten years. Maybe this new year or this new day greeted you with a major trial. I think it’s fair to say that our first reaction to difficulties, challenges, and hard life situations is not to be joyous. But the Word of God is filled with commands and encouragements for us to “rejoice always” (Phil. 4:41 Thess. 5:16).

Here are the reasons why the ladies in my discipleship group and I—and you, too—can and should receive trials with a joyous spirit.

1. God’s Word says so.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).

To embrace the challenges and trials in our lives is an act of obedience. Likewise, to grumble, to complain, and to war against them is an act of disobedience. One way the enemy steals our joy is by tempting us to disobey the giver of joy! The first step is to “face” the trial.

We don’t have to understand what God is doing, agree with it, or see how it will end in order to embrace it with joy. In fact, trusting the Lord means saying, “Yes, Lord,” and knowing He has a plan (Jer. 29:11).

2. The trial is producing something.

For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3).

This verse reminds us of two things: Trials test our faith, and they produce “staying power.” Faith and staying power are both inextricably linked to walking this Christian life. We are called to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and the Lord has promised this life won’t always be easy (John 16:33), so we need to learn how to finish well.

3. This is the path to maturity.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4).

When we remain steadfast, the promise is that we would be mature and fully equipped. Some translations use the word “perseverance,” which means to “stay under the pressure.” That’s the key—staying in the trial until it has done what the Lord has purposed.

It’s not seeking to relieve the pressure—nor abandoning our boats because we feel alone at sea. Rather, we surrender our will afresh each day. God doesn’t just want us to bear fruit, He wants us to bear “much” fruit (John 15:8). That sometimes requires a sharp knife!

4. It draws us closer to the Lord.

Think about when you have walked with a good friend through a difficult circumstance. I bet that when they finally got to the other side, you and that friend were closer than before. That’s what happens when we trust God and allow Him to lead and comfort us. We trust Him more, and consequently, we love Him more.

Being a Christian is about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship is established in many ways, one of which is trials. We can hear of others’ testimonies of how God ushered them through the valley and be encouraged by it, but there’s nothing like having your own personal experience and being able to say as the Psalmist did, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps. 23:1).

Building Up Your Muscles

This idea of rejoicing in trials is one that many struggle with. Why did God design it this way? Because the work the Lord has for Christians to do demands maturity, and maturity demands trials. Whether that work is ministering to others in a formal setting or being a homeschooling mom, in order to be effective and faithful, we need to be strong in the Lord.

In order to get stronger when you exercise, you must increase the number of reps or increase the weight on the bar. That’s what trials do—they “add more weight to the bar” and grow our spiritual muscles.

Beloved, God would never ask us to do what He has not empowered us to do. By His Spirit, we can be challenged yet joyful and content if we look past our present circumstances and keep our eyes on Jesus.

God has promised in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Each trial prepares us to go through the next one with greater faith, resolve, and trust. Our job as image bearers is to bring God glory. So although our walks are personal, they are not private, and people are watching.

Both believers and nonbelievers are watching, and we want to handle difficult circumstances in a way that says our faith isn’t contingent on ease and comfort. And when we come through the trial and look back, we will be able to declare Romans 8:18 as our testimony—that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”