BY CATHY SCHAEFER, GRACE ATTENDER
Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. ~James 1:2-4
There are many challenging passages in the Bible, and for me, this is one of them. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that trouble should be an opportunity for joy. Joy? Really? I can see how trouble might be an opportunity for faith, or prayer, or courage…. But joy? Are we supposed to be happy about our troubles? It occurred to me that maybe I needed to expand my definition of the word joy. Once again, I turned to my Holman’s Bible Dictionary, and found these helpful descriptions:
JOY: State of delight and well being that results from knowing and serving God. . . . Joy is the fruit of a right relationship with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts. . . . Joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion as believers walk with the Lord.
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere…. With this definition in mind, we can say that when trouble comes our way (notice that’s when, not if), it presents us with an opportunity to experience God’s joy as we 1) know and serve God; 2) come into a right relationship with God; and 3) walk more closely with the Lord.
If I’m being completely honest, my inclination is to avoid trouble whenever possible! I think one of the reasons I’ve been confused by this verse is because it almost sounds like we should welcome and be happy about trouble! But I’m not sure that’s what God expects. Maybe this verse is simply pointing out that when trouble comes, we can choose to re-frame it as an opportunity for joy. The fact is, trouble puts our faith to the test! When we are faced with a painful situation, we have the choice to either run away from God, or run toward God. Only choosing to believe and trust in God and drawing closer to Him will increase our faith and eventually produce joy.
The first week of December, my dad was unexpectedly hospitalized for a week with a serious and potentially life-threatening health issue. He’s 81 and has enjoyed good health for most of his life, but this situation reminded us all that he’s getting older, and we can’t take his good health for granted. When he came out of surgery, my strong, hard-working, capable dad suddenly looked so small, weak and frail. It was scary to see him in such a vulnerable condition. I didn’t like watching him suffer, or feeling so helpless to do anything for him. Except pray, that is, so I did a lot of that!
Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. ~James 4:8
I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me, freeing me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. I cried out to the LORD in my suffering, and he heard me. He set me free from all my fears. For the angel of the LORD guards all who fear him, and he rescues them. Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who trust in him! ~Psalm 34:4-8 (emphasis added)
Our troubles can (and hopefully should) bring us to our knees in prayer, crying out to God for help. I often think of how desperately I want my children to come to me to discuss their problems and how I long to help them, if I’m able. God put those desires in a parent’s heart because that is also the desire of His heart towards us. He wants us to bring all our troubles to Him! He wants to help us! These verses assure us that God will hear and answer our prayers--and free us from our fears--if we will cry out to him in the midst of our pain and suffering. Not only will He relieve our fears, but He will actually replace them with joy! We are told “those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy”--that we should sample His goodness in order to know “the joys of “those who trust in him!”
Besides praying and drawing close to God, I believe another key to finding joy in the midst of our troubles is to practice Gratitude. I think God is especially pleased and honored when we choose to be thankful in the midst of our pain. And one of the primary benefits we reap from expressing gratitude is happiness or joy. Research has shown there is a strong connection between the two. A recent online article entitled “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” published by Harvard Medical School says this:
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual Receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals—whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
The article concludes with a short list of “Ways to Cultivate Gratitude”:
*Write a thank-you note.
*Thank someone mentally.
*Keep a gratitude journal.
*Count your blessings.
Last month I attended an event where I won a “Gratitude” jar in a raffle. Since it was just before Thanksgiving, I set it on my kitchen counter and have been diligently adding at least one gratitude card per day. So when my dad was hospitalized, I decided to be even more intentional about practicing gratitude in those troubling circumstances. And you know what? I found that it really did help change my perspective on the situation, and it really did bring me some joy during a difficult time. Here are a few of the cards I wrote that week:
Thank you God for hospitals and good medical care.
Thank you God for the medical advances that helped save my dad’s life.
Thank you God for a reliable car so I can drive to the hospital to see my dad.
Thank you God for the knowledge and care of kind doctors and nurses.
Thank you God for all the friends and family who showed their love with calls and visits.
Thank you God for all the prayers that were lifted up on my dad’s behalf.
Thank you God for my dad’s great attitude during this ordeal.
Thank you God for my ability to be available to help and support my parents.
Thank you God for cell phones to keep our large family updated on his progress.
Thank you God for protecting my dad and giving us another Christmas together.
I think I finally understand the meaning behind that verse from James, and I feel more equipped to face the troubles that come my way. I can honestly say that, although I don’t welcome them, I am grateful for my troubles because they bring me closer to God. When I choose to cry out to God for help, He will answer and reveal important aspects of His character to me. He shows Himself faithful, and that alone is cause for great joy!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
How do I usually react in times of trouble? Do pain and suffering cause me to pull away from God, or draw closer to Him?
What would it look like for me to trust completely in the Lord?
What are some ways God has shown me goodness and mercy in the past?
Where do I most need God to show up in my life right now? Have I asked him to?
What am I most grateful for in this moment? How can I be more intentional about expressing my gratitude?
Praise the LORD! For He has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust in Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. ~Psalm 28:6-7