Counting It All Joy
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17–18).- Habakkuk 3:17–19
Christian joy does not deny the reality or pain of suffering and grief. Such tragedies can actually produce joy, in that through them we might learn to walk more closely with the Lord. Indeed, we are told to “count it all joy” when we endure various trials (James 1:2).
James is not teaching us that suffering is good in itself. We are not to say that our pain by itself makes us joyful; we are to “count” or “regard” it as joy when we encounter trials. And we do this because trials give us the opportunity to endure and thereby be made mature and complete (James 1:3–4). By itself, a hardship is not a good thing. But since God will use it to make me holy, I can rejoice in the sanctifying work He accomplishes through times of personal pain. Knowing that our Father is working everything together for good in my life (Rom. 8:28), I can face my trials with courage and look for opportunities to grow spiritually during such times.
Sometimes, we grow more holy only when trouble comes into our lives. This notion is foreign to most people because of the widespread belief that God owes us a life free of emotional and physical pain. Yet, the Lord never promises us an easy life, though He does promise to be with us in our difficulties and lead us through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). Therefore, we rejoice in His presence to guide and purify us.
To be sure, it is easier to say we must count our suffering as joy. It is much harder actually to do such a thing. However, remembering that the Christian life anticipates the future will help us find joy in our pain. God does not promise us a life free of trouble, but He does say our difficulties are limited by time. Pain will not last forever; there will be one day a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21). The life of joy is not one in which we simply believe in God; it is one in which we believe God will one day right all wrongs.
Today’s passage looks to God to make us as sure-footed as the deer who traverses high and dangerous mountain paths with ease (Hab. 3:19). Trusting Him to impart strength and confidence to us even in the midst of hunger and poverty will bring us joy (vv. 17–18).
Our future hope, rightly understood, does not make us callous to the needs and importance of this present life. Instead, it makes us live today with confidence, sure of the Lord’s presence as we courageously face the unknown. “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). If you find it hard to be joyful, consider whether you are too attached to this life and not enough to the life to come.
Passages for Further Study