We are 10 days away from Christmas and often, December is a season where we are more inclined to reflect on life and what the year has brought us, good and bad. This includes experiences that brought us joy or taught us lessons that prepare us for the new year.
One of many people’s favourite verses is found in James and reads:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
Now, Joy can be a slightly nebulous concept. As a 'fruit of the spirit', it is not happiness nor excitement. Neither is it pleasure or contentment in our personal circumstances. Rather, it is a deep-rooted, unshakeable delight in the goodness and promises of God, regardless of the conditions that surround us.
It is not difficult to see that as a society, 2020 has been a time of great trial, of loss and for many of hardship that seems ongoing and perhaps even at times, may begin to feel insurmountable.
Personally, I have faced some trials this year beyond those posed by the pandemic and beyond anything I have faced previously. I have to admit to not feeling much immediate happiness, excitement or pleasure in the midst of these.
Yet in those times, the feeling deep in my gut has been that whilst God doesn’t cause trials in our lives that shake our foundations, He certainly, always uses them for our good and for His glory.
His promise to us – which we can understand through this verse – is not that he will take away the difficult stuff, or even make it all go away more quickly, it’s that He will use it for our good, if we allow Him to.
That isn’t a glib, easy or poster-friendly promise. It’s a down-in-the-dirt when things are tough promise. It’s a promise for when our teeth are gritted, and our emotions overrun. This is a promise of God that He is with us in the tough times. He will develop our perseverance (note - not just take away the pain, but use it to help us come through stronger) and He will be with us through it all.
We know that God makes ALL things work together for our good and for the glory of His name. THAT is where our Joy is to be found. A joy that is not based on our circumstances, but on the promises of God.
And so, in this way, we can hopefully understand what James meant by ‘pure joy’, and what it means as a fruit of the spirit to be ‘joyful’. James knew what he was doing when he talked about joy in this verse, juxtaposed as it is with the circumstances and trials he refers to, he knew it was only in those moments that we can truly reflect and truly know that our Joy is found in HIM.