"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)Finding joy in our trials is usually not our first thought when we first encounter them. Trials, by their very nature, are not fun and often fraught with difficulty and danger. One who fails at a trial can suffer harm and loss through the process. Even one who successes in them is not immune to the pain and suffering they experience along the journey. However, the very thing we find difficult to summons is the very thing that will strengthen and sustain us through the journey. It was said of Jesus that, "for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) That joy was our redemption and it was His joy in seeing our redemption which enabled Him to endured the cross and the shame. It was for the joy of seeing us brought into the Kingdom that Jesus endured His trials and sufferings.
When James refers to trials he is not speaking of random painful events that enter our lives. Rather he is speaking of opportunities to test the genuineness of our faith. It is an opportunity to either choose according to our faith or according to our fears, impulses, and unbelief. These trials allow us to see the true quality of our faith and the degree to which our faith in God is merely mental or truly integrated into our lives. For Abraham and Sarah, such a testing came upon them after God had promised them a son. Years of waiting had provided an opportunity for their faith to be tested. Did they really trust God and His promise or did they trust their own wisdom and strength? In the end, their faith faltered. "So Sarai said to Abram, 'Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai." (Genesis 16:2) However, failing at a test is not disqualification with God, rather it is merely meant to show to us the strength, or weakness, of our faith and the areas of our lives that we must strengthen so that next time, when faced with a similar test or trial, we will be successful rather than fail. Failing a test is a call back to God that we might continue to grow and to shore up the areas of our lives that are weak.
Like Abraham and Sarah, when faced with prolonged trials, we look for shortcuts or ways to exit prematurely, rather than submitting to the trial and trusting God for our eventual deliverance from its grips. God has already promised us, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) We may feel that we have hit our breaking point, but our faith in God ought to reassure us that, if we are still suffering, then we are still able to endure it and that God still has a way out for us. Exiting trials prematurely will only serve to rob us of the good God is working in our lives and will necessitate future trials to work into us what God intended for us in our present trials. However, such endurance requires patience, yet not a passive patience, but a joyful, hopeful, confident expectation of good. Often in our Christian lives faith alone is insufficient, we also need patience. "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:11-12)
In the end, the goal is perfection; to be perfect and whole in every area of our lives. Some areas of our lives may only require mild affliction to perfect while others may require more strident trials. However, the end is desirable and for our own good. If there were any other way, God would avail us to such milder means. However, things of great value often come only at a great price. Jesus once prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) Trials, difficulties, and suffering are inevitable, but if we can see their purpose, see the joy set before us, then we will be able to embrace them and endure them as Jesus did and we too will reap their benefits in our lives.