Counting It All Joy

God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (v. 19).

- Habakkuk 3:17–19

Contrary to the way many believers sometimes think and act, Christian joy does not mean that we ignore or deny the pain of suffering and grief. Nevertheless, suffering and grief can lead to joy, for trouble provides an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ and to learn how to walk more intimately with Him. The apostle James, in fact, tells us to “count it all joy” when we endure trials and tribulations (James 1:2).

Be clear that James is not asserting that suffering is a good thing in itself. On its own, pain does not make us joyful; rather, we “count” it as joy when we face difficulties in this life. This is because God uses it to make us mature as He empowers us to endure by faith (vv. 3–4). Hardship considered in isolation is not good, but when we remember that our Lord uses tribulation to sanctify us, we can rejoice that He is refining us and making us holy through permitting pain to enter our lives. Our Father is working everything together for good in the lives of His children, even tragedy; thus, we may courageously look for opportunities to grow as we suffer (Rom. 8:28).

It is often the case that we become more holy only when we meet suffering (Heb. 12:3–17), though this idea is hard to accept because we hear from the culture, and often the church, that God owes us a life altogether free of emotional and physical pain. Yet our Creator’s promise is that He will be with us in our troubles and lead us through dark valleys — not that our life will be easy (Ps. 23:4). So we rejoice in His comforting presence and guidance, and not in the pain itself.

Counting our suffering as joy is certainly easier said than done. Still, one fundamental biblical truth can help us find joy in our pain, namely, that all of our difficulties are limited in duration. For the believer, pain is not forever, as there is a new heaven and earth coming (Rev. 21). God will one day right all wrongs and thus wipe away every tear from our eyes.

The prophet Habakkuk reminds us that the Lord will make us as sure-footed as the deer who traverses high and dangerous mountain paths with ease (Hab. 3:19). As we trust in Him to impart strength and confidence to us, He will work in our hearts to lead us to rejoice even when times are lean and painful (vv. 17–18).

Coram Deo

Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said that while anyone can believe in God, it takes real faith to believe God. Trusting in His goodness during a severe illness, times when others sin heinously against us, the death of a loved one, and a host of other circumstances is a test for us, for it is in these occasions that the Lord may seem absent. But He is truly with His sons and daughters at all times (Ps. 139:7–8), and we can hope in Him to bring us safely to glory.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 60
Romans 8:18

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343