Many years ago, before we realized we would be husband and wife, Frances and I often frequented a restaurant after church on Sunday nights. As friends and as young believers, we’d talk about the Lord, His involvement in our lives, and whatever else came to mind.
One evening, Frances commented that she believed the Lord was teaching her to “count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations” (James 1:2). I responded, “Oh, it doesn’t mean that.”
Frances, understandably, was taken aback. “What do you mean, it doesn’t mean that?” she asked.
“Well, I’m not quite sure what it means. But I know for certain that it cannot possibly mean that we can count everything as all joy!”
Frances was not, as those of you who know her can imagine, satisfied with my condescending response. “So, you don’t know what it means to count it all joy when we experience troubles and difficulties?” I recall her looking me right in the eye as she asked the question.
This made me a bit nervous (you don’t want Frances to look you right in the eyes after you’ve been condescending, I can assure you!). I cleared my throat again, this time nervously. “Well, well, no, I can’t say what it means”. Frances pressed the issue. “But you say it doesn’t mean what it actually says?” She had me, of course, and I attempted a stuttering response, from which my future wife saved me by continuing to look me right in the eyes and then declaring, “I’ll tell you what. Until you can tell me what it means that James commands we count it all joy when we fall into diverse temptations, I think I’ll just take God’s Word at face value!”
More than three and half decades later, Frances still takes this mandate of Scripture at face value, exemplifying and affirming it in countless challenges and trials. Moreover, I came around not too long after the above episode, agreeing that this command of Scripture means what it says, and actually promises one of the most miraculous assurances made to us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, if God can justifiably and fairly command that we view difficulties, distresses, disasters and even catastrophes as “all joy,” He must know that He possesses the capacity to reveal and enable His joy in all things.
We’ll consider the details and outworking of this truth in messages to come. For now, let us simply realize that our Lord believes (knows) He can enable us to rejoice at all times and in all things. We must increasingly join Him, affirming confidence in His confidence. Indeed, there is no pit deep enough that the light of God’s joy cannot penetrate to illuminate. Dungeons, dark valleys, crosses, sickbeds, gravesides and dark nights through the ages all resound with this truth, as countless echoes of praise and thanksgiving from such strange places bear witness. In this present hour, believers testify of experiencing God’s joy even as tears fall from their faces and sorrow wracks their hearts – “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).
I’m so glad that one of those faithful saints bore such witness in that evening so long ago. I’m so glad that I married her! I rejoice all the more that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knows Himself and His ability with such confidence that He can command us to rejoice where and when joy seems impossible…
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) “Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.” (Psalm 33:21)