Even though joy is a fruit of the Spirit, at times the tree can seem a little bare. Where do we find joy when it seems there’s no joy to be had?
These are the times when the difference between joy and happiness becomes clear. Consider the irony of James 1:2-4 when it comes to having joy. James tells us that we should think of trials as joy. Really? Are these the words of someone who has lost touch with reality, someone who has a warped sense of what joy is all about?
Hardly. As someone who gave his life for the gospel, James knows a thing or two about trials. And yet he encourages his readers to regard them as joy. Why? What is the connection?
According to James, trials bring joy because they test our faith. What is joyful about that? Isn’t there a more pleasant way to find joy?
In James’ mind, it’s not the testing that’s joyful; it’s the steadfastness that results. This brings us back to the prayer we prayed earlier for deep roots. Ironically, the same forces that threaten to uproot us are also the ones that drive us deeper. The key is in how we respond. If we choose to give up and give in, we will be swept away by the next forceful gust of adversity. But if instead, we choose to dig in rather than give in, we will find that those winds only make us cling to our faith more tightly. And just as a muscle gets stronger with exercise, so our faith gets stronger through trials. This is where the joy comes from: the deeper the faith, the stronger the joy. And like roots, this joy is hidden on the inside but revealed by what happens on the outside. The tallest trees have the deepest roots. We can be sure that if the Lord is testing our faith through trials, he is building us into something that over time will be able to withstand even the strongest winds.
The ultimate goal? That we may be perfect and complete – that we may be whole. And nothing brings joy quite like that.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 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
A Prayer for Joy
Lord, as unlikely as it sounds, help me to recognize that joy can be at its best when life is at its hardest. Help me not vainly seek happiness, but help me instead embrace the joy that can be mine through these trials. Help me remember that a deep and lasting faith through trials is better than relief from those trials. Thank you for doing great work in my life, even when it means passing through difficult times in the process. I trust that you are making me whole, and I thank you for the joy that this brings. Amen.