James 1:2–5 (ESV) — 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
A simple misreading here can make James’ point onerous and heavy rather than sweet and helpful. The text does NOT say, consider trials in and of themselves joyous things. It is not a plea to become masochists and take pleasure in pain. He says count it all joy “when” – or, on the occasion of. Many in misreading this have tried to do the impossible and make the trials themselves joyful, only to fail and then imagine themselves as having failed God in it. Soon they come to ignore, or even resent or hate such a passage.
But the idea is not to ignore the difficulty of any trial, but to see that upon entering trials, we have an opportunity before us which is joyous. And that opportunity is at least in part to use our weakness as a place to learn dependence, to experience the sustaining power of God, and to grow in the image of Christ as we look to His Spirit in it. That by His grace we can take advantage even of the most harrowing things.
So the call is not to somehow make pain itself pleasurable. It is to say that in Christ, everything can be redeemed for our good. And that each trial presents new opportunities for that.
Now how to do that in each case, takes a wisdom we do not natively have. But it is a wisdom God delights to give when we seek Him for it. Each trial may require some new insight, some new glimmer of wisdom peculiar to that particular trial. But if we are assured in our hearts that He loves us so and desires to meet us there, we will find the prayer for that wisdom answered in due course.
Believer – keep looking to your Savior. He not only redeems your soul, but all of your experiences, trials, temptations and woes. Nothing is beyond His reach. Especially you yourself. And He holds you, in the palm of His nail-scarred hand.