Difficulties as seasons for joy

In his book “Above the Line,” Ohio State’s football coach Urban Meyer talks about his coaching philosophy. One of the things Meyer talks about in his book is what he calls “the R factor.”

And by the R factor, Meyer is talking about the Response Factor. In the book, Meyer says: “We don’t control the events in life, and we don’t directly control the outcomes. But we always have control over how we choose to respond.”

While this is certainly true on the football field, Meyer goes on to talk about how this is also true in life.

And he’s right.

We face trials in life that our beyond our control. But we do have control over how we respond.

In the Bible, in the book of James, he says, “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

We face trials, we face difficulties. It’s not that we find joy in the trials themselves. The point isn’t when a person breaks their arm, they should celebrate!

But to find joy through what God is doing. What God is doing when things don’t go to plan.

Count it joy. It’s getting more at our thoughts than our feelings. The call here isn’t to put on a happy face when we’re struggling. It’s not to live a lie if we’re in a tough season. But through trials, through difficulties, that we should still find joy in God.

There are purposes as to why. James 1:3-4 says, “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.”

To be steadfast is to be resolute and unwavering, to persevere. Testing of your faith produces steadfastness. When we are tested, we have an opportunity to grow in faith. We have an opportunity to trust God, to trust his purposes, to trust his goodness.

And there we have part of the reason why we should count tests and trials as occasions for joy. Not because of the difficulties in themselves, but because they produce steadfastness. We grow in strength.

A person might ask, “Well if God is so good, why does he make us go through the trials at all?”

Several reasons. The most obvious, based on this text is that God uses trials to make us perfect, and complete, lacking nothing.

But this also gets at the purpose of life on earth. And that purpose is not to have a total life of ease without any difficulties ever. We live in a fallen world. And even as children of God, we are not insulated from the effects of the fall: from health problems, from broken relationships, from lost jobs, and disappointments.

We live to know God, and facing trials doesn’t hinder knowing God and experiencing him. In fact, trials are meant to enhance that relationship.

If following God meant that you didn’t face any trials, and everything was totally smooth sailing and the way we thought it should be, then God wouldn’t be God, you would be. If everything went the way we thought it should go.

I think about the testimony of Mark Stuart. He was the lead singer of the popular Christian group Audio Adrenaline. A few years ago, Mark’s voice started going out. He had developed a disorder that would cause spasms and his vocal cords. As his voice grew weaker, Stuart eventually had to give up singing entirely.

Since leaving singing, Mark has begun a ministry that works with disabled children in Haiti. Tim Tebow talks with Stuart in his new book “Shaken” where Stuart talks of the fulfilling ministry work he’s doing: “God fills up so much of my life with good things that I don’t miss what I don’t have anymore.”

Stuart goes on to say that people ask if they can pray, and if he wants to be healed, wants his voice back. The answer is always “God has already healed me. I lost my voice as a singer so I can be a voice for these kids.”

Counting it all joy when we face trials because God is making us perfect and complete.

While it might have seemed like a terrible situation for Stuart to be in – to lose his singing voice, God had his reasons.

Trusting in the gospel, the forgiveness which Jesus won for you at the cross. And walking with Jesus every day of your life. Living out your faith, regardless of circumstances. That’s what God desires from us in our struggles.

We grow through tests and trials. Or at least, we have the opportunity to grow in trials. We can keep our focus on God, we can turn to him for joy. Without knowing the answers, we can place our trust in him when we’re struggling. Or we can sit down and feel sorry for ourselves.

We can grow in faith through being tested. We never grow if everything is always smooth sailing and status quo. It is in the struggles, when we are forced to rely on God and God alone and to trust him that we grow.

Some of us won’t. And I don’t say this to mock, but some people who either don’t really have a relationship with God or who don’t really have a strong faith, in the struggle, will be like plants that aren’t strongly rooted in the soil, and in a challenge, totally become uprooted.

God doesn’t test us so that we can fail. He tests us so we can be perfect and complete lacking nothing. So that through having a greater reliance and trust on him, we can grow in holiness.

God is trustworthy in our trials.

Trials are not the time to distance yourself from God and His Church. That’s the last thing you should do! It is in the trials that you should more and more be living for God, trusting God, growing with God.

In facing trials, it’s important to have Godly people in your life. People to talk to, to pray with, to share your struggles with, to be encouraged by.

Again, it’s not if but when we face trials. It’s inevitable and just actively being aware of that is valuable. We can rejoice in the good times. But we can also rejoice in the struggles because God is working in us. It is in the trials that we are most enabled to grow. Muscle fibers have to be torn before they can grow back together and form stronger muscles.

If things are going really great right now, rejoice in that. There are trials in life, trials in families, there are trials in churches. God is trustworthy in our trials.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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