What does it mean to count it all joy? Dr. Scott Swain reminds believers that we don’t have to pretend all is well in the face of trials, but that we do have reasons to rejoice as we bear sorrows.
What does it mean to count it all joy when we fall into various trials? Let’s start by thinking about what it doesn’t mean. “Count it all joy” doesn’t mean “wipe that frown off your face and put a smile on your face,” any more than the encouragement to “fear not” means “remove all causes of fear” or the encouragement to “worry not” means “to remove all causes of anxiety.” The assumption, I think, behind that is a wrong picture of what the heart is and a wrong understanding of how our emotions actually work.
How Our Hearts Work
A lot of times negative emotions are good things, or at least they reflect something true about the way God designed us.We often think of the heart as if it were a cup, and sometimes we have negative emotions that fill that cup. When we read in Scripture “count it all joy” or “fear not,” we think that maybe we’re supposed to pour out the bad emotions and pour in good emotions. But that’s not what the Scripture is after, and that’s not how the heart works. Actually, a lot of times negative emotions are good things, or at least they reflect something true about the way God designed us. Jesus wept. Paul said that he had daily anxiety for the churches. Moreover, the life in which we live right now is often described in Scripture as a vale of tears. We are in days of mourning, even when we’re rejoicing.
Well, what does it mean then to count it all joy? Scripture understands that the heart is not a cup, which we can just pour negative emotions out and pour good ones into. The heart is more like a balance scale. When trials come our way, they give us real reasons for sorrow that weigh down our hearts. But when James and other authors of Scripture encourage us to count it all joy, what they’re trying to do is give us counterweights. They’re trying to give us other reasons to rejoice even as we bear the sorrows of our trials.
Three Reasons to Count it All Joy
James in James 1 offers three reasons, three counterweights to put on the scale of our hearts when we are overwhelmed by trials, when we find ourselves overwhelmed with sorrow and tears. First reason he gives is that God is working through our trials to perfect our character. He says, “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfectly complete, lacking nothing.” The second reason he gives is that God has promised to reward us at the end of our trials, which means there is an end to our trials. God has promised the crown of life, James says, to those who love him.
Because this God is our God, we have reasons to rejoice even in the midst of trials.But the ultimate reason and the ultimate counterweight that James wants to lay onto the scale of our hearts is that the one who stands behind all things, including our trials, the one who stands at the end of all things, including our trials, and the one who is with us in all things, yes, including our trials, is the unchanging Father of lights. The Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change, who brought us forth through his Word that we might be the first fruits of his creatures, from whom every good and perfect gift descends. What James wants to say is that because this God is our God, we have reasons to rejoice even in the midst of trials.