Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… James 1:2
Say what, now?
Pure joy? Trials of many kinds?! I used to hope this was a typo.
I have to admit, I used to struggle with reading that I was supposed to consider it a joy to face trials. Not only that, but it was supposed to be pure joy…and it wasn’t just one or two trials, but many. MANY! And oftentimes, I found that these trials would all come around the same time. We don’t even get to try to handle just one at a time!
Ugh! God if You are good, and You are love, then why so many trials?
Mature and complete. Not lacking anything.
In the Fall of 2003, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to enter into one of the darkest winters of my life. My husband had just separated from active duty military and we moved back to his hometown. We didn’t have a house yet, so we moved in with his mom. I would like to say that my mother-in-law and I got along swimmingly, but close quarters, and upstate NY winters, did nothing to enhance our relationship. Right before we moved to NY, I had been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism. I also needed to quickly find a doctor to remove pre-cancerous cells that had been discovered as we were moving (my biopsy was on the day the movers were packing up our house). While I was unable to find a job in our new state, my husband was working 12-14 hour days delivering packages during the holiday season. I was trying to remain positive; however, because I had only just begun medication for my Hypothyroidism, I was still experiencing all of the symptoms – depression being the worst of them all. And then the day after Christmas, my grandmother, who had always been a steady rock in my ever-changing world, passed away. Two and a half weeks later, we lost my husband’s father. He, too, was a steady source of strength for our family.
Talk about getting kicked while you’re down.
I would like to say that things began to get better…but, they didn’t.
My depression worsened. Relationships were strained to the breaking point. I still couldn’t find a job. We still had not found a house. And I’m pretty sure the sun never came out, that winter. I only remember the color gray.
During that difficult time, something else was taking place. While I had prayed the prayer of salvation when I was twelve, most of my life had been lived on my terms. I prayed only when I needed something and my Bible rarely saw the light of day. Regardless, I felt a tug in my spirit. In the midst of the chaos and pain, God was drawing me back to Him.
I remember a day during the two and a half week period between my grandmother’s passing and when we lost my father-in-law. I had finally begun to, half-heartedly, read my Bible when I came across this:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5
Something alighted in my spirit when I saw those verses.
It was hope.
It was the first time I realized that suffering could produce something good. And that good came directly from God Himself, through His Spirit, who had been given to me.
God loves us, so much! That is why He sent His Son, and that is why His Spirit resides in Believers.
And even though my circumstances did not change (actually, they got considerably worse), I began to realize that I could grow and change. God was, and is, actively working to shape me and mold me into what He created me to be. All I need to do is yield to the Lord and allow Him to do His work.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 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. James 1:5-8
As I continued to seek Him in His Word, God was showing me things I had never seen before. And as I began to trust Him in His sovereignty, I was beginning to understand that, while it was still very painful, He was actually walking me through the difficult times. I had not been abandoned but, instead, was being changed and refined – and it instilled a hope in me that would carry me through the rest of that dark winter.
I also have to admit that my newly instilled trust, and hope, was tested and tried during that time. Less than two months after my father-in-law’s passing, a family member committed suicide. Just days after finding out, I was nearly in a car accident that would have, likely, killed the person in the other car. I was able to jerk my steering wheel just in time, but still came within inches of a possible tragedy. Instead of praising God for what I absolutely believe was His intervention, I found myself raging against Him.
Why?! Why was I being kicked while I was down? What on earth had I done to deserve wave after wave of pain? Why couldn’t I have control of anything in my life?! Didn’t I have a say?!!
In that moment, the darkness of the previous four months came crashing in and I was shattered beyond recognition. With both hands on the steering wheel, I nearly jerked the wheel to drive off of an overpass onto the interstate below. I didn’t care. I was done. I couldn’t bear to spend another moment in this hell I was going through.
Yet, something stayed my hands.
Even though I found myself safely over the overpass, I still felt dead inside. And there was such an ugliness in my heart toward God. If He is so sovereign, then why was He letting all of this happen?
Back then, I didn’t realize that it’s not about me. It’s about Him. And what His Son did for me…for all of us. But I was only focused on my pain and what I was going through. The work He does in me, through my yielded heart, is for my good and His glory…even when that work comes through pain. But I have to surrender – everything – even my perceived control.
If you are struggling with a trial, or many trials, I encourage you to lay it all down at the feet of the One who is walking beside you. Yield your heart to God, seek out His Promises in His Word (the Bible), and wait patiently on Him. If you are hurting and wondering why these things are happening to you, please know that God Himself is actively working in your life to build up the characteristics, in YOU, that reflect His image. That will bring hope that does not disappoint…making you mature and complete; not lacking anything.
I would like to add that right after the overpass incident, even with all of the rage and pain in my heart, the Lord led me, directly, to a bookstore. With a tear-stained face, I walked in and purchased a journal that set me on a path to writing out my heart, for God. So don’t despise the trials. Some of the greatest work that God does in your life often comes during the most difficult moments. Hang on! Do not doubt! Settle in your heart His Truth. And I pray that as you look back on the hard times, you’ll see God’s hand, and His heart…and you will consider it pure joy.
The following sermon, by Pastor Jonathan Holmes (Parkside Church), helps to explain the work that is done through trials. I highly encourage you to give it a listen.
(Post updated 07/2021)