How To Find Joy In Trials
Time and time again, those who face trials, suffering, and hardship are directed to James 1:3 and encouraged to find joy in their trial. The heart and reasoning behind this encouragement are sound: "The Bible says you should count it joy, and being joyful is a whole lot better than being sad." So the suffering party attempts to find joy, but joy is so often difficult to come by in trials, even when they understand that the present trial will produce all sorts of good in their lives. So the question left unanswered in James 1:3 and the hearts of sufferers is, "How can I find joy in my trial?"
The Bible has a roundabout answer for us in the Psalms. The Psalms are widely regarded as the prayer book of the Bible, a book in which God teaches us how to speak with Him. That may sound absurd given that there are times when the psalmist accuses God of being idle or wishes for judgement upon the enemy. Yet, God shows us there are no prayers too brash that He cannot handle through it all.
Many psalms display a certain pattern of prayer, and the pattern goes like this: crisis-remembrance-praise. One psalm that stands out to me is Psalm 77.
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah (Psalm 77:1-3).
The psalmist faces a day of trouble—a personal crisis—and it weighs so heavy on him that even the thought of God causes him to groan (verse 3). When he says, "my hand is stretched out," he refers to the ceaseless prayers he offers to God, yet he cannot find the comfort he desperately seeks. So, the psalmist begins his prayer explaining his crisis:
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, "Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart."
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
"Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?" Selah (Psalm 77:4-9)
These are serious doubts—whatever they are—that cloud the psalmist's vision of reality, and we who experience (or have experienced) difficult times know how this feels. He cannot sleep, he doesn't know what to say, and all he has for God are questions. They ask the pressing questions of the moment, the questions that we feel most deeply. But, they are precisely the questions God does not answer for us. How often do we find ourselves in this situation during our own trials!
And what is the only answer to those questions?
Then I said, "I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High."
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What God is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah (Psalm 77:10-15)
The answer to those questions is to remember God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. As you can observe, the psalmist asks doubting questions. They are real, they are what the psalmist feels in the moment, they are honest, but they are questions from a person who has, if only for a moment, forgotten who God is. The difference in attitude between the questions and the solution is like day and night. You can almost tangibly feel the psalmist's mood change.
So, the short answer to our first question--how to find joy in our trials--is to remember God. That is the simple answer. But, what are we to remember about God?
1. His deeds.
The psalmist begins with the works of God from ages past. My guess is he remembers the stories of how God called Abraham and Sarah, both old, to start a family whose number would match the stars in the sky. Maybe he remembers the victories in battle God gave the children of Israel. Whatever he remembered, it serves us as a model for remembering God. So remember the works God has done because they will tell you a great deal about who God is.
2. His character.
The psalmist then moves to the character of God, citing God's holiness and otherness. When remembering our God, we must root and ground our remembrance in the nature and character of God. Who is God? That is a loaded question, and it will take time to explore because He is incomparable. "What god is great like our God?"
3. His redemption.
When we face trials, the most important thing to remember, especially for the sake of joy, is how God redeems His people. Perhaps, much of our sorrow in suffering comes from a lack of understanding just how great a salvation we receive in Christ. Our salvation is mercy when we deserve judgement and spiritual health instead of our sinful sickness. Remembering our salvation wraps us in a blanket of rejoicing and thanksgiving.
The psalmist ends his prayer by recalling God's work, character, and redemption in the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:16-20)
The last five lines hold tremendous meaning for those who suffer trials. God's path for the children of Israel was through the sea, not around nor above it. That is often the case for us. The lightning flashes and the thunder crashes all around us, and the ground shakes beneath us, yet the safest path is through the trial.
Perhaps the most challenging part of any trial is not the surrounding terror but the unseen footprints of God leading us onward. In our trials, God is most often silent but never absent.
How do we count it joy when we face our trials? Remember the works of God. Remember God's character and attributes. Remember God's redemption. Remember God.