Counting It All Joy!
Counting it all Joy!
James is a very practical book. Some have called this Epistle a handbook for living the Christian life.
Of course, after a very brief greeting, James begins his epistle with one of the loudest proclamations in the entire Bible: “count it all joy!” James will be echoed by Paul’s words… “Rejoice always!”
Count it all joy!
James didn’t mind taking on the difficult issues of life. In fact, he jumped right into the thorny issues: suffering, trials, tribulations. All those knock downs, and setbacks that life tends to bring to each of us.
And even though there are those who have questioned the practicality of James words… calling this epistle naive, and an epistle of straw… per Martin Luther… at least James knew how to get our attention, right? Anyone who grabs our attention, or shakes us by the shoulders, while looking us straight in the eye… with a steady and clear voice, declaring, “count it all joy!“… deserves our attention.
Of course, James tells us why we should “count it all joy!” in the last part of verse four, which reads, “that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.“
I mean goodness, who doesn’t want that? That’s what we all want! We all want to lack and nothing… to be perfect and complete. And if we say, “we lack nothing”… that’s the same as saying, “we have everything“… Right?
And that’s what our world tells us every single day. You can’t turn on the television without being bombarded by commercials, images that tell us that true success is having it all. If you just buy their products, use their service, all your dreams will come true… Your life will be filled with pleasure, beauty, happiness! Makes me wonder why none of the people in beer commercials are overweight? No one has a beer gut? You can live your absolute best life without any other side effects. Or at least that’s what they’re telling us.
But the truth is, they’re simply telling us what we want to hear. That there’s a “pill” to fix everything… and we should have instant gratification. It’s an easy enough trap fall into, in fact, it’s so easy that every single one of us spend much of our lives trying to attain it.
James demands that we rethink the whole notion of having at all. James proposes, that you and I are called to be “perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking in nothing.” That’s true enough. But there’s a strange twist, a catch, that we often want to ignore… Because James connects being perfect, and complete… With suffering.
Many, many years ago, (a couple of centuries ago actually), a young boy living in England was constantly struggling with his health. He was always sick, puny… Didn’t thrive like other kids. Of course, back then they didn’t have the medications and the treatments that we take for granted today. So, this young boys sickly condition continued throughout his life… He never became, what you and I might call, “a strong or healthy person.”
When the boy was young, he would look out the window and see all the other children playing and having fun. As he watched he would often grieve… sometimes cry… because he wanted to be out there running playing, enjoying life like the other children. He’d sometimes feel sorry for himself, and jealous… envious of others. It honestly seemed, his lot in life, was to suffer.
Well, as the story goes, when he became a young man… he felt called into the ministry, specifically the pastoral ministry... So he dedicated his life to serve in Christ, and his church.
But again, his health failed, and he was just too sick, too frail to carry out his pastoral duties. His condition lead to depression, and he began to question, “why? Why me? Why can’t I be like other people?“ When other people are out and about living their lives, and using their gifting‘s and graces, making a difference… He was left to question why he couldn’t.
But one day, everything changed. After a conversation with a friend, who helped this young man see that his life had its own purpose, apart from that of everyone else. He began to realize that he wouldn’t get anywhere so long as he compared himself with everyone else, and constantly felt sorry for himself.
So he began to affirm, both who and Whose he was… And that he had his own life, his own calling to live out. And what mattered was that he lived his own life fully, and completely… And to the very best of his ability. And when he started doing that, he began to transform; his life really did begin to reflect his calling.
That man’s name… Was Isaac Watts, one of the greatest hymn writers of all time. He wrote “Joy to the World“ and “O God, our Help in Ages Past.” His life had no direction, no energy, no creativity, until he stopped looking around at other people… And committed himself to do what he could, for Christ and his kingdom. He learned, “to count it all joy.”
James tells us, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance… Let perseverance finish his work… So that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.“
Listen to me: pain and suffering for the sake of pain and suffering is evil. If suffering, if grief, if sickness, does not teach us anything, is useless. Most of the time in this life, we see suffering as a form of unfairness. Fact is we don’t all suffer equally, do we?
We often curse the unfairness of life, we vent our anger, and complain of suffering. But the truth is, God feels the same way. God‘s heart breaks, when our hearts break; God grieves when we grieve.
We tend to think, “life should be fair because God is love; and since he loves us he would only want us to know things that a good, and joyful, and fair.” But when we think in such ways, we’re liable to confuse God‘s ways with the ways of this physical life… By expecting constant blessings, as the world sees blessings, and good health and an all the other goods of this life. And when we do, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Maybe, maybe we need to remember just how unfair life was to Jesus. The same Jesus, who is sinless, who healed, who taught of the kingdom… Who inspires us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to forgive until we lose count… The same Jesus who died on the cross, because He KNEW who and Whose he was. The cross forever and always destroyed the basic assumption that life will be fair.
The Fact is, and the point that James is trying to make, is that we can waste our suffering, or we can allow it to produce trust and faith in God, through perseverance and faith. And we can allow our perseverance and faith, to perfect, and complete us… Leaving us, “lacking in nothing.”
So alongside James… may you and I, “count it all joy!” The good, and the not so good; the blessings, and the not so blessed things of this life. For the truth is, it’s all working together, bringing us, as people of faith, to the very place we need to be. It’s all bringing us ever closer to Christ.