When I came home from work and walked into the unlit kitchen, I could sense I wasn’t alone. I hesitated for a moment, collecting myself. I turned on the lights. And there they were, staring at me from all directions.
Dishes. Cups waiting in the sink, still half full of milk. Plates piled on the counter, smeared with peanut butter and pizza sauce. A bowl sitting forlorn on the floor, bearing the scars of a month-long captivity under my roommate’s bed.
I had hoped to grab a quick dinner and retreat for an evening of reading, but no longer. My path blocked, I shrugged off my bag and grabbed the soap. As I scrubbed, I dreamed of the chair and the book waiting in my room. I conducted a silent argument against my eight roommates. I sighed and chafed and muttered.
And all the while, I completely missed the point.
Our Various Trials
If the apostle James were in the kitchen when the lights went on, he might have turned to me and said, “Count it all joy, my brother, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).
Many of us associate that word trial with calamitous trouble, the kind that grabs you by the shoulders and starts shaking. But notice how James describes these trials. First, he calls them “trials of various kinds.” We face yearlong trials and five-minute trials. Trials that make us weep and trials that make us roll our eyes. Trials that kick our feet out from under us and trials that just step on our toes. We face big trials and small trials — trials of various kinds.
Second, the trials James has in mind result in “the testing of your faith.” A cancer diagnosis tests your faith. A prodigal child tests your faith. An unfaithful spouse tests your faith. And rush-hour traffic tests your faith. Each of our various trials asks, in either a shout or a whisper, “Will you trust God in this moment, or will you go your own way?”
The word trial applies not only to disasters and catastrophes, but also to those little, everyday troubles that press their finger on our faith.
Run to the Finish
James’s command confronts our common assumptions about smaller trials. Unless we stop and reason biblically with ourselves, we will likely act as if head colds, traffic jams, and busted furnaces are mere frustrations. Surely such nuisances don’t fit into some grand design for our Christlikeness, do they?
Imagine you’re training for a marathon. You’ve hired an expert personal trainer who knows your limits and the level of endurance the race requires. He wakes you up at four in the morning to run. He forces you to squat and stretch and sprint. He snatches every cupcake from your hands. And though you may never grow to love the sting of sore muscles, at each point in your training regimen, you remember: My trainer knows what he’s doing. This pain is producing endurance.
Now, back to the real you. You may not feel like a runner, but you too have a race set before you (Hebrews 12:1). You have desires to deny, temptations to flee, and a devil to oppose. You have people to love, grace to speak, and a mission to accomplish. If you are going to run this race to the finish, you will need endurance. You will need the kind of steadfastness that keeps your legs churning over decades. And how will God make you that steadfast? By leading you through a dozen discomforts every day.
God will make you steadfastly patient when you wait at a doctor’s office, thirty minutes past your appointment time. He will make you steadfastly loving when a difficult friend needs to talk right at your bedtime. He will make you steadfastly joyful when you’re midway through your bike ride home and the rain starts pouring. And he won’t stop until steadfastness has “its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).
The little trials you meet today are not mere letdowns or annoyances. They are invitations from your Father to become more like Jesus. They are the exercises your faith needs, given in just the right size and quantity. They are God’s way of fitting you for glory.
Count It All Woe
So, when we meet trials of various kinds today, we can take one of two paths: we can “count it all joy,” as James tells us, or we can count it all woe.
On the one hand, we can count it all woe. We can comfortably nurse our self-pity, or silently rage against our circumstances, or inflict the next listening ear with our tale of misery.
This path will feel gratifying at first. We may soothe our anger for the moment. But this path will also change us. Each small trial will chisel away at us, shaping us into the image of grumbling discontents. We will grow more prone to murmur. Trouble and pain will begin to offend us, as if they infringe on our right to an easy life. And when big trials do come, they will toss us like a twig on the waters.
Count It All Joy
On the other hand, we can count it all joy. We can catch our first impulse toward annoyance, remember that God is at work in our small trials, and turn our frustrations to prayer.
This path will feel painful at first. We may need to silence some loud voices in our heads. But this path will also change us. Each small trial will chisel away at us, shaping us into the image of Jesus: kind when interrupted, calm when accused, patient when misunderstood. We will grow more prone to receive each moment with gratitude. We will treat trouble and pain as allies in our fight for holiness. And when big trials do come, they may shake us, but they will not shatter us.
And we will make it to the end, rejoicing along the way in our trials of various kinds.