One of the most extraordinary phrases in the Bible to me is found in the opening chapter of the book of James.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” the author tells us.  It feels like a seemingly impossible response.

Even now you might be thinking, “How can I ‘consider it all joy’ when I’m short on money, or when I’m facing a difficult problem at work?  How can I thank God when a child is injured in an accident, or when a loved one dies?”

In the wake of the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech, how can friends or loved ones “consider it all joy” in the midst of their grief?

The natural response during suffering and trials is often to cry out in anguish to God and ask why He allowed this to occur.  But James 1:2-5 calls us to put our focus instead on trusting God in the midst of pain:

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.  But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Trials and suffering are good for us because they test and strengthen our faith.  They force us to decide if we are going to believe God’s Word is true.  Do we really believe that God will provide for all our needs?  Do we really believe that He is sovereign, that He can comfort us, that He can cause all things to work together for our good?

And when you and your spouse face those questions together, and seek God together in the midst of your trials, it cannot help but deepen your relationship.

As I read through the first few verses of James, I was reminded of an e-mail I read a few days ago about the experiences of Marc and Renee Dreyer of Hudsonville, Mich.  For 18 months their daughter, Emily, experienced an escalating series of health problems, and on her tenth birthday she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a complex condition that, in simple terms, meant her brain was slipping out of her skull into the spinal canal.

The e-mail included some documents the Dreyers had written to describe their ordeal (more than 130 medical appointments in Michigan and New York for tests and treatment) and what they learned from it.  I was struck by how each family member had grown closer to God and also by how much they had learned about the love of God’s people.  Marc, for example, wrote that the word “compassion” became real to him “as many people prayed, brought meals, sent cards and gifts, visited, gave word of encouragement and surrounded us with love.”

Emily wrote, “Through the whole deal I had a lot of mixed feelings, here are just a few:  scared, excited, anxious, hurting, tired.  I’m sure that my family had a lot of the same feelings, I mean, with me being in the hospital and all!  During all this a bunch of people brought me gifts, balloons, flowers … But the truly greatest thing all you people have done for us is pray!  I learned in the last year and a half how powerful prayer really is!”

I called Renee and asked how this experience has affected their marriage.  The first thing she mentioned was that she and Marc are thankful that they had a solid foundation for their relationship before it began.  “I’m convinced that you have to be rock solid before you go into something like this or it will tear you apart.  It will break you or make you stronger.”

She wanted to make it clear that on many days she and Marc “feel anything but rock solid—more like we have been in a ‘slimy pit’ and we are wading right through the middle of waist-high crud!  She quoted from Psalm 40:  “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God … Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.”

Renee praised Marc for stepping up as a husband and father to help shoulder the ongoing, day-to-day responsibility of taking Emily to various doctor’s visits.  She described how important it was for them to remain a team and to continually seek God’s strength and guidance.  “I don’t know how many times we had to just hand her over to God, and say, ‘Whatever you have planned for her, and for us, give us wisdom and guide us.’”

She praised God for faithful friends who have helped bear the burden, and she mentioned the importance of trusting God in the midst of suffering.  “Sometimes we don’t feel thankful, but give thanks out of obedience to God.  We aren’t always happy, but we can have joy.  I pray we remember happiness depends on happenings, but joy depends on Christ.”

After we talked, Renee sent me a poem that someone sent her.  I haven’t found who wrote it, but it encouraged me so much that I want to share it here:

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient.
When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.
When you feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.
When you are the weakest, He is the most able.
When you are the most alone, He is intimately present.
When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest!
When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.
When it is darkest, He is the only Light you need.
When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.
When you are the most humble, He is most gracious.
When you say that you cannot, remember that He can!

Obviously, Emily Dreyer and her family can use our prayers.  They have a long, faith-testing road ahead of them, and they will have many opportunities to “consider it all joy” as they travel it.

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