Joy? In Adversity? Seriously?

Am I the only one who finds the following passage … uh … confusing?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2

I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally associate “facing trials” with “pure joy.”

I can face trials if I have to. I can whine, grit my teeth, get through it, maybe even grin and bear it.

But I don’t think of joy as part of the deal when adversity comes along.

James 1:2 is one of those verses I sort of dismiss. Maybe he meant it for them, back then, but surely I’m not really supposed to jump for joy when adversity drops onto my path.

So …

I know I’m not supposed to just ignore the parts of the Bible I don’t like. So how do I reconcile seemingly contradictory notions of adversity and joy?

I’ve been thinking about training, the process of getting physically and spiritually fit. I was cranking along this morning when I realized something.

I see a lot of people exercising—riding, running, and walking. And you can just tell which ones are there because they want to and which ones feel like they have to. I see some of them daily, and today I recognized what’s missing.

Whether it’s in a gym or on a bike path, for some folks every workout is absolute drudgery. They do the work, but it’s all about obligation. They’re missing the joy.

Joy—it’s different than fun or happiness, though I’m not exactly sure how to define the distinction. When I’m cranking along and I’m hot and tired and sweating, I don’t think about pleasure. I can’t claim that I enjoy the pain of an intense workout while it’s occurring.

But there is a sense of joy and satisfaction and peace that comes with choosing to intentionally endure the discomfort of physical exercise. And I think that’s the sort of joy James is describing.

Spiritual exercise

I wonder if I approach my spiritual “workouts” with the same sense of anticipation that accompanies my cycling. Attending church on a beautiful morning, studying, praying, meeting my small group—I do those things, but how much flows from obligation and responsibility? How much am I “getting through” them so I can get on to other, more pleasant stuff?

Using the training analogy, I’m developing habits during my workouts. Those habits will emerge when the real trials, the adversity I don’t expect, drops into my path.

So if I bring minimal joy to the workouts, I guess I can’t expect to experience much joy—peace, contentment, satisfaction—in the midst of the real game.

My coaches always told me, “You play like you practice.” Perhaps that’s what James is saying as well.

Maybe I need to practice better.

What tips can you offer to help us make our “spiritual workouts” more joyful?

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site

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