Rejoice Together, Suffer Together, Repeat

Appearing on For the Church

Have you ever heard something good that happened to a friend but rather than being excited and celebrating with her, you compare your success or want what she has? It seems pretty common, and unfortunately, it was my mindset this week. It is an ugly place to be. Not much love for a sister. Not much willingness to be for her. Not much thinking about anyone but myself.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Christian friendships should be marked by the fullness of life — climbing into the pit of despair with one another and delighting together when there is good news. These relationships are for-each-other relationships. When my sister hurts, I hurt. When she rejoices, my heart is gladdened. Christian friendships bear the beauty mark of other-centeredness, and this other-centeredness is always the result of finding an identity that isn’t in what you have, accomplish, or do. 

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Cheerful Endurance in Trials

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. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. -James 1:1-8

When was the last time you needed to be steadfast? Perhaps it was endurance in an athletic endeavor or emotional strength in a relationship, mental focus to complete exams, or getting through another night of taking care of an infant. James begins his letter by holding up the virtue of steadfastness. To be steadfast is to endure, to wait patiently, to be constant, to have cheerful endurance.

Lately, my daughters have been waking up at 5:30 am. Though hopefully, this is a short-lived trend, I have not rejoiced in the predawn rooster cries emerging from their room. In fact, if I really examine my response to trials, I often see the benefits of spiritual growth in hindsight, after the ordeal is over, but I rarely am thanking God and rejoicing for whatever difficulty he has allowed my way. So why is it so important that we rejoice while we face trials, not just after? And more than that, what is it about the Christian faith that enables not only endurance but joyful endurance? 

Testing. James says that we can rejoice in testing because it produces steadfastness. Testing is what sharpens and refines us. Testing can sound negative as if God is throwing curveballs at you, trying to trip you up. Largely, tests are not popular. Testing brings back memories of algebra and physics, right and wrong answers. But testing can also provide an opportunity for what psychologists call eustress—a kind of stress that provides opportunities for positive growth. Even though the circumstance is still challenging or difficult, when you are working towards something good, the stress associated with it becomes a necessary part of human growth and development. The same goes for spiritual maturity. Jesus endured testing in the desert before his ministry began. Spiritual testing is a positive activity that teaches us to depend on God, rely on his word, and prove our faith genuine through endurance. 

An opportunity for joy. Biblical joy is contentment in Christ in spite of circumstances. Happiness is always connected to circumstances, but joy is a fruit of the spirit, something that grows out of participating with Christ, and the byproduct of faith. It is rooted in knowing that God is at work in all things and his promises are all true. This is why Paul in Philippians rejoices in his suffering and imprisonment. He knows that the Lord is using his imprisonment for his glory and purposes, and he is confident that even if the worst happens (he dies) he will be with Christ which is his heart’s truest yearning. When you desire to grow in Jesus, you can find joy in trials because God promises they will develop your love fo him and deepen your intimacy with him.

When James says to count it all joy when you face trials because the testing of your faith will produce steadfastness, he is saying that the foundation of Christian discipleship is growing in steadfastness, pursuing Christ in all circumstances, finding joy in Him in all seasons so that we might be transformed more and more into his likeness. So that we will be complete and lacking nothing. So that we will one day look just like Jesus. In your circumstances today, remember that the Lord tests and refines us to draw us to himself and change us into people that know and love him more and more.