There is a difference between “joy” as it is experienced in the world and Christian joy.
- Joy in the world is much like that of happiness contained in a helium balloon. Such joy can appear to be almost wondrous as it floats high into the sky. However, the enjoyment is only temporary as it drifts out of sight and ultimately “pops” as circumstances change.
- Christian joy is not tainted by adverse circumstances or the actions of others. Christian joy is instead filled with the hope and wisdom of faith in Christ Jesus.
If you are struggling with circumstances that are out of your control, or are trying to make sense of the hateful ugliness being reported in the news, then I encourage you to stop and consider the wisdom of James.* In his letter directed to, “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” James sought to encourage and exhort God’s people living in uncertain times (times similar to our own) to persevere in their faith to discover the “pure joy” of an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. What is the essence of Christian joy? Here is what James says:
“Consider it PURE JOY my brethren,
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS . . .
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work
SO THAT YOU MAY BE MATURE AND COMPLETE,
NOT LACKING ANYTHING.”
James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine.)
The first time I read James, I thought his call to “pure joy” was some sort of weird, masochistic invitation to delight in suffering. (You can bet I kept a wide berth between myself and James for quite some time!) However, after going through some personal trials of my own, I remembered James and went back to discover the blessing I did not appreciate before. That last bit, about needing to persevere in my faith (trusting in God’s goodness rather than allowing hurt or disappointment to darken my perceptions) hit me like a fresh shot of sunshine that suddenly burst through a massive bank of dark clouds. As I thought about God’s goal for my life–to work out a mature faith within me–all the defenses I had erected in the past to protect myself crumbled. I realized then, that the joy James described was what I wanted too.
But, how exactly is Christian joy to be worked out? Is it just a matter of “keeping a stiff upper lip” and trusting that everything will somehow work out? Thankfully, I kept reading James and found the answer to my question:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault . . . .
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
So, what is the essence of Christian joy and how is it even possible in the world we live in?
- To rejoice in trial means that we refuse to doubt God’s Goodness as we seek His wisdom by faith.
- Christian joy refuses to give way to fear but is strengthened as we resolve to stand in faith.
- Christian joy is not naive but rests in knowing that the things of this world are only temporary, that our Hope (and therefore our joy in Christ) is eternal.
Christian joy is about going deeper in your faith to gain maturity.
It stretches beyond mere ascent to belief in Christ,
as it determines to embrace the benefits of maturity God affords under trial.
No matter what you may be facing, James directs us to rejoice in the sure knowledge that this is not all there is. In essence, James is calling you and I to step out of ourselves (like Peter stepped out of the boat so long ago) to gain a maturity of faith that is out of this world. So-o-o-o-o, what are you waiting for? Give thanks to God for His Goodness as a mature faith is worked out in you . . . .
All to His Glory!
*An interesting side note: James was a half-brother to Jesus yet only refers to himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. (James 1:1)