I have a high pain threshold and I am not squeamish about my own blood. But I remember when the local medical staff had to remove part of our road from our youngest son’s face after a bicycle mishap he had as a child. I couldn’t watch. I remember watching my wife’s fingers close inward like claws and her skin go white as she hemorrhaged after a miscarriage and came close to death. I had to sit down and put my head between my knees.
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.
These are the words of James1.1-4. I wonder how James felt as he watched Jesus endure a life that was anything but easy. The fact that he and his other siblings didn’t believe in Jesus until after He’d risen from the dead (and we don’t know if some of them ever believed) doesn’t mean he didn’t love his Brother. On at least one occasion (MAR 3.20-21), His brothers and sisters publicly questioned Jesus’ mental state. But a brother is a brother, after all, and it must have been painful to see the firstborn stigmatize the entire family on the one hand, and suffer severely on the other.
And suffer He did.
During His ministry, Jesus was poor, homeless, misunderstood, scandalized, ridiculed, treated with scorn and contempt, threatened, doubted, abandoned, betrayed, tortured, crucified, and forsaken by the One who loved Him most. Jesus “…has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin…” (HEB 4.15) and on the night of His arrest He was in such spiritual and emotional agony He perspired blood. (LUK 22.44)
Did Jesus enjoy these experiences? Of course not. Who would? Jesus was not a cosmic masochist who took pleasure in suffering just because He knew He would be able to get through it. And James is not suggesting we enjoy the pain of trials–the anguish of human loss, the devastation of sudden unemployment, the pain of illness, the trauma of betrayal–any more than Jesus enjoyed Gethsemane. Jesus knew what He was about to endure on the cross, but He also knew how it would end. That night He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (LUK 22.42) That’s steadfastness.
The writer of Hebrews gives us some insight into the words of both Jesus and James: “…Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (HEB 12.2)
It may be that the only joy we have in a trial is the joy that we know will come later–in heaven, when all the troubles of this life are history. But that’s still joy, and it can be what allows us to endure and what produces steadfastness in us. It will change how we view our present trials and allow us to look beyond the pain.
“Perfect and complete.” That is what James says steadfastness will make us, and he has seen what “perfect and complete” looks like. That’s what his Brother was like–fully mature and not lacking in anything. Perfect. We won’t achieve that in this life, but God is conforming His children to the image of His Son (ROM 8.29), and has things in store for us that we can’t even begin to imagine.
Paul, who suffered greatly for the sake of Christ, wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (ROM 8.18) “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen…” (2 COR 4.17,18)
Are you in the midst of a trial in your life and feeling like a failure because you’re not enjoying it like you think you should be? If you are truly a child of God, you can experience joy without enjoyment.
But you may have to look ahead.