We’ve heard it before, haven’t we? Whenever we hit a rough patch, or encounter some difficult people, a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ would proclaim, “Count it all joy!” Without doubt, this is totally biblical and a great reminder. However, it has also become yet another Christian slogan which everyone knows but few understand. And when glibly and insensitively dished out, it can be more of an irritation than an encouragement. That said, we all know to count it all joy, but do we know how to count it all joy? For sure, it is not some positive-thinking mantra that we are to chant, or a phrase that brings us into denying the severity of the moment or situation.
Firstly, what we want is the Joy of the Lord which gives us strength (Neh 8:10). Of course, we should have His joy all the time. But it becomes even more critical when we go through a trial for that is when our weakness becomes extremely apparent. It is the strength derived from the fullness of His joy found in His presence (Psalm 16:11) that sustains us, that enables us to bear through the challenge. This sounds good but don’t wait until you hit a bad patch before you learn how to practise the presence of God. By the same token, it would do you well to understand that getting into the presence of God does not just mean Quiet Time or daily devotions, important and useful as these are to help us draw near to Him. Determine, instead, to know how you can carry His presence with you and be in His presence wherever you are, whenever you need to.
Secondly, with a right perspective of trials, we can then understand the Joy of Participation. Let me remind you: if you are determined to live a godly life that counts for Jesus, you will face persecutions and tough times (2 Tim 3:12). If you consider yourself a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, you enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (Rom 8:16,17). In other words, you should expect many opportunities to “count it all joy”. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus and performing great signs and wonders! When the authorities had no other reason to detain them, they were released. Acts 5:41 records that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus! This joy of participation keeps us going, knowing that all that we do for Him will never be in vain.
Thirdly, lest you have a wrong picture from the above two points that Christians must always be laughing and joking, we need to understand the Joy of Expectation. The joy of the Lord will strengthen you through the most trying times. The joy of participation will keep you in the right perspective as you trudge through the trenches. But truth be told, it is still really tough. You need something to look to, and the joy of expectation will keep you going until you finally overcome. Think about this … did Jesus have the joy of the Lord and the joy of participating in the Father’s work? Of course He did. But did He go skipping and dancing along the Via Dolorosa? Did He display great mirth when He was nailed to the Cross? I think not. For sure, the obedience of Jesus to the mission kept Him going forward. But the writer of Hebrews provides another detail … that Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised its shame and overcame (Heb 12:2). We can and must have that same expectation of joy set before us that we will hold on and not give up, however dire the situation may be. As we suffer with Him, so we shall be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). Jesus says “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Rev 3:21 What great expectation! What great joy!
The next time you need to “count it all joy”, I hope that these three points would serve you well and keep you in good stead. Indeed, in the context of James 1:2-4, we are to consider it all joy because our faith is being perfected. My firm conviction is that it is only as we grow in spiritual maturity that we can more fully appreciate and appropriate the joy of the Lord, the joy of participation and the joy of expectation.