A friend is the victim of slander at work, and she’s finding it hard to forgive. A young mom is facing the sixth month of her husband’s unemployment, and she’s scared for the future. A mentor just told you the diagnosis is cancer, and he’s angry at God. Are you shocked by these confessions? What do you say, beyond “I’m so sorry”? Do you change the subject?
Or do you buoy their hearts with all the reasons Christians have for gladness in trials, that a line of battle has been drawn, and faith can be tested once again? James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (emphasis mine).
Three Reasons to Be Glad When Trials Come
Trials can be momentary or life-altering, but they are all unpleasant. They are the potholes of life that shake our faith and reveal what we’re made of—especially where we’re lacking. For believers, the hardest part of a trial is seeing the weakness in our faith and wondering why we find it so hard to trust God. We like to think we have it all together, but we don’t, and we resent the events that bring us face to face with our limitations.
The following verses have revolutionized how I view trials, specifically those that reveal lack of faith. I’ve learned how circumstances that reveal sins like hidden fear and doubt are not reasons to tear up, but reasons to cheer up.
1. The intentions of the Tester are good.
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 1:3-4)
You may feel like this trial is too heavy for you, that you can’t stand up under its weight, and your faith is going to collapse in response. But the good news behind the test is the character of the Tester—our sovereign God who has declared his intentions in showing you the weaknesses in your faith. He intends good, to produce in you the strength you need to stand, and you can trust his steady, capable hand.
2. Testing reveals our hearts.
We try hard to believe that deep down, we are basically good people. The ugliness that surfaces in response to trials is therefore unusual, out of character, a temporary madness. Its source must lie somewhere outside of us, we think, so we are not at fault. For Christians who hold fast to the sovereignty of God in all things, this thinking can quickly descend into blaming God for the faithless reactions to the trials he allows to test our faith.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:13-14)
Suppose we think of our situation as A + B = C.
A is me, B is the God-ordained trial, and C is my sinful response. If we truly believe we are basically righteous, the temptation to sin must come with B, the God-ordained trial.
But James tells us something different. He tells us that the evil comes from A, the desires of the heart that have been corrupted by indwelling sin. The God-ordained trial, B, is designed to bring the sin in A to the surface and give us the opportunity to let the Spirit change our heart. Just because financial strain usually produces doubt of God’s provision, or just because a life-changing diagnosis usually makes us angry with God, these trials doesn’t have to.
It’s good news when we embrace these opportunities to look at what’s in our hearts and take what we find before the Lord. Since God is not the source of the temptation, and the trial itself is not deterministic, we can take a step back and look at the situation as a diagnostic tool. No longer a vehicle of doom, trials become useful helpers to show us who we are, and provide opportunity for change.
This is the miracle of the new creation: A + B does not have to equal C! In fact, our trials can produce good fruit and change us for the better where they used to leave us defeated.
3. God gives without reproach.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
You see your lack of faith and feel worthy of condemnation—but God doesn’t see you that way. Our Lord is gracious to sinners! Because of Jesus’ saving work, you can receive the wisdom from heaven you desperately need, simply by asking.
The reproach we deserve for faithlessness in the face of Almighty God was born by Jesus on the cross and forever removed from our blood-bought souls. Meditation on our reproach-free standing before God is a great reason for gladness, but that is not all that is offered to us! Just as our Lord is generous with his heavenly pardon the moment we received salvation, his generosity continues in the daily wisdom and grace he offers us to build our faith to completion, even and especially when trials come.
Embrace Trials with Joy
Take heart weary struggler: God is generous and near! And he has good and perfect gifts that he will generously pour out on you when you ask in faith (as weak as this faith may be). With this mindset, you can embrace trials with joy because you know they are not without purpose; they will helpfully reveal hidden sin so it can be dealt with; and God will give you what you need to endure them faithfully.