Winter is coming. I find that this time of the season is always tough for me. Temperature dips and often I find that my mood falls with it. I wake up often with the despair of having to fight through another tough day of facing the daily stresses of life. Finding the motivation to do even the small things like reply to messages is often like trying to find a needle in a haystack – it is often buried under the weight of anxiety of having to respond to the message – ‘how are you?’, because you’re not quite sure what the answer to that is.
The familiar feeling of joylessness
Adulting does not get any easier, instead, it gets harder. It was not long ago that you were a carefree student, enjoying the luxuries of having someone else load your account with cash. Now the burden of carrying a financial responsibility that you feel unprepared for is beginning to dig into your shoulders, and you grimace as the pain of doing so sears deeper. You allow the busyness of life to run you over because it’s easier to just ‘get on with it’ than to slow down, face your worries and realize that perhaps ‘you’re not doing okay.’ Maybe when you open your Bible, you feel numb to the power of the words you read. When you finally pluck up the strength to pray, you find yourself distracted by the same fears you are trying to pray about. You feel as though you’ve let yourself down. Your ambition is falling at an alarming rate and this rut is not what you planned out for your life. Does it feel familiar?
I think I’ve read James 1:1-3 hundreds, if not thousands of times over during the course of my lifetime. It’s familiarity made the words feel slightly redundant to me because I had heard the rhetoric repeated to me so many times. I couldn’t wrap my simple mind around the questions of how you could be happy about hardship? What did James know about suffering that I didn’t? Why would you even want to remain in hardship let alone rejoice about it?
Tough times don’t last, only tough people last
The process of coinage – both refining (or in more exact terms, purifying) and testing gold and silver in Ancient history often involves the process of heating it in a furnace. The Greek noun ‘dokímion’ refers to the process of proving that sterling coinage was genuine as opposed to counterfeit. It involves the refining process of exposing the coinage’s imperfections and lifting the impurities from the genuine gold or silver coin.
James uses the same noun when offering counsel on how to deal with hardship. The reason for the use of the noun ‘dokímion’ (testing) in this verse is because similar to coinage testing, God’s will for putting us through tough periods in our life, is to demonstrate what is good in us. When He saved us by grace through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the regeneration that took place in our hearts once we believed in Him, meant that we were approved of by God, and as a result sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13);
And in Him, having heard and believed the word of truth the gospel of your salvation you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,Ephesians 1:13
Therefore, similar to the gold coin, your faith as well as mine is undergoing the test of the fiery furnace so that Christ can examine what He already knows about you, that you are yet to find out. That is, the faith that you possess is acceptable, real and genuine. It is the rough, hump days, (months, or even years) that must let the record show that such is the case. The beautiful thing about trials is no matter how ugly it gets, the end is always a positive result. This is because the focus of this testing is not to disprove or discredit us, though we may feel bad during the process. Instead, it is for Christ to hold us against His light and affirm that we are approved of by God and acceptable according to his righteousness. That is to say that, once our present suffering in Christ reaches its end, and is complete, we are met with future glory of eternal life with Christ because of the authenticity of our faith in Him. An authenticity proved by the road of tribulation paved before us. It is the very reason Job could say :
‘Yet he knows the way I have taken when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold’Job 23:10
That being said, we should rest in the fact that God knows the way we must take in order for us to reach the destination of our future glory. This includes the battles and struggles that we must face along the way. I believe the reason why James invites us to ‘count it [our tough times] joy’, is because this joy is a natural response to knowing everything is being taken care of by a sovereign God. The term joy that he uses in verse 1 is ‘xará’; meaning to have an awareness of divine grace and implicit assurance which ignites a cheerful peaceful heart. Knowing that our present struggles are in fact positive testing and confirmation of genuine faith in Christ, who will not only keep us from falling but joyfully present us faultless before the presence of his glory, gives us not only the ability to endure suffering, but to ‘count it as joy’ while we do so.