Shack Suffering and Joy

Consider it… pure joy

The book of James, written by James, (some say Jesus’ half brother, others say his cousin) begins without any lead-in. He straight-up tells his readers to consider whatever trials they are facing as pure joy.

Here is it is in the NIV translation of Scripture:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:Greetings.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Consider it: The reason I can don’t skip these verses entirely and move on to number 5 (which is a favorite) is that James tells me to consider that my suffering is pure joy. I like the phrase consider it (over feel it), because it gives me space to step back from my suffering for a moment, and reflect. 

I feel James asking for a shift in my thinking. “Cinthia,” he seems to be asking, “Can you view your suffering through a different lens, and possibly find joy?” In a world that views suffering through the lens of horror while asking the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” James (who was martyred for his faith, so he is no slackard on the subject), tells me that suffering comes bearing gifts–joy, perseverance, and a perfected faith that lacks nothing.

It is hard to consider suffering in any light other than panic and fear, because suffering is so often unfathomable. Don’t think this short study is easy for me to digest because I’m the one writing it. It isn’t. I am heartsick for your suffering and mine. I know women who have buried children, and in the same year, spouses. Women who received the bodies of their son’s, returned to them in a casket from Afghanistan. Women who were just told, you have Alzheimer’s, at 45. I shed tears, now, over it. I cry out, quite literally, to my God, and say, “She is your daughter. Go to her!” The tears of friends are my tears too. Suffering is no small subject and I do not make light of it, but James asks us to consider it, and so we do, even when we are shocked, confused, outraged, feeling assaulted, and wondering how to fix it immediately. Remember this, when the unthinkable happens and we are not prepared for it, God is. In that regard, Scripture speaks to suffering in all 66 books. Generally, we are given three primary things to consider about suffering (if you have time, look these verses up):

  1. We will suffer. (John 16:33, I Peter 4:12)
  2. God is with us in our suffering (Psalm 22:24)
  3. Direction and understanding about our suffering. (Ephesians 4:14)

If Scripture is true, and I believe it is, then we will suffer trials of many kinds. Don’t immediately discount your suffering because it isn’t persecution for your faith. The kind of suffering James is talking about here takes any form, hence many kinds. I’m even going to be bold enough to toss some of my “consequences for not so stellar decisions” into that definition.  I don’t mean I will blame God or others for my mistakes and sins, but I plan to hold onto God’s refining fire of me during those consequences. I want my suffering, whether I brought it on or got blindsided by it, to count for something. I don’t want it to be wasted. Pure joy actually sounds good. It gives me hope that the suffering isn’t just for suffering’s sake.

Personal Questions (for journaling or reflection):

  1. What does James promise as a result of the testing of our faith in vs. 3-4? .
  2. How do the words not lacking anything resonate with you? Do you desire that kind of faith? (Can we be honest about it? Because God is not only able to handle our honesty, he uses it to raise our chins. He uses it to free us.)

Don’t confuse not lacking anything with moral perfection. It is the perfected faith of believers that is the topic. I’ll be honest. I want a mature faith, just like I want an established and prosperous career. But, I am not sure I want the work that accompanies that career, or the suffering that develops that faith. Can you relate?

Personal Questions:

  1. What could be the perfect result of your (my) present suffering?
  2. What would be the result if you (I) could skip the suffering?

Because, here’s the deal. I think we can and often do skip it. We:

  • Shop it away.
  • Drink it away.
  • Exercise it away.
  • Work it away.
  • Compartmentalize it away.
  • Play it away.
  • Literally move away.
  • Pretend it away.
  • Use anger to keep it away.
  • Use relationships to distract it away.
  • Blame it away.

I have refused the perfect result of suffering for much less. But does it make sense too? C.S. Lewis related suffering and endurance to a surgeon’s knife. If you were sick and needed surgery, would you stop the surgeon half way through his task? No. Even if it required your suffering, you know that to finish the surgery is to be healed. You endure the surgery for the perfect result.

Since there has never been a time in my life when I was not lacking something (spiritually speaking), then I am quick to dismiss James’ here. If I can’t envision it, I don’t seek it. But, if suffering is going to come, whether I am seeking it or not (and seeking it is fool’s play), then perhaps my ability to envision the joy or maturity that follows, doesn’t matter. What matters is the gift of God’s Word framing my thinking during my plight. When I am blindsided by life, I can hold onto what God promises through James’ pen. There is joy in the midst of my pain, and my suffering will not be wasted. It will produce fruit in me. That is hope for uncertain times. 

Comment questions: (Answer in the comments below if so led):

  1. Has there ever been a time when you chose to skip the suffering through some worldly effort?
  2. What was the result of that “skipping?”
  3. If it is possible, would you consider experiencing the suffering now, and letting God have his perfect way with you?

If we’re going to consider (not feel) our trials as pure joy, we must consider the perfect result of that trial. We must consider that the answers to our probing questions are found in the completed suffering, not in the deliverance from it.

That is surely enough to consider for today.

Father of grace, Lord of life, Creator of all things, 

Fight for us. Come to us. We are scared, tired, weary, unsure, defeated. We are lost. But you are there. In the darkness and in the light, your arms embrace us. Your arms enfold us. Let us rest in your arms, comforting our hearts with your great presence. Understanding that the You and you are alone are worthy, and in you we are fulfilled. You are life. In the midst of our fears, and all that assails us, come to us. Fight for us. We love you. In Jesus Name.