How can I have joy when I'm going through trials?
Sometimes Christians believe that once they have been accepted into the Kingdom of God, their lives will be smooth sailing. When this turns out not to be true, they begin to wonder why, and ask questions like "Is it something I've done? Am I really a Christian? Why are all these bad things happening to me if God loves me? Is He really there?" But the Bible is clear that trials do not come because we've done something bad, but to test our faith and make us strong (James 1:2-4). The person who faces trials is being treated as a child of God, and God is a loving, attentive father—He brings discipline to our lives in order to teach us and make us righteous (Hebrews 12:7-11).
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This reason often brings little comfort in the midst of a painful trial. James says we are to "consider it pure joy" when we face trials (James 1:2 NIV). Does this means we are supposed to smile and be happy, even when we are suffering? No. Joy and happiness are different things. Happiness is not opposed to joy, nor is it something we should not actively seek. But happiness is dependent upon circumstances. Happiness can be taken away if our feelings are hurt, or if we suffer a disappointment, if we are fired from our job, or if we have a headache. But joy is always there, no matter what, because joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the Spirit is not affected by circumstances. He indwells believers, and His joy is always there, just as He has promised always to be with us (Hebrews 13:5-6).
Joy is not a feeling—unlike happiness, joy does not produce a swell of emotion or a better mood. But it does produce a settled spiritual contentment as we look forward to the next life. Shakespeare famously said that the only things that are sure in this world are death and taxes. He was right. For unbelievers, this life, this world is all they have to live for. It is possible to gain happiness here, but happiness is always fleeting, dependent on circumstances. You may be a wonderful athlete, but there's always a chance of injury. You may have great wealth, but it can easily be lost. You may have a wonderful romantic relationship; feelings can change—and even if they don't, one of you will eventually die. This world is set up to hook our hearts and then disappoint us. This sounds terribly grim, and many of us do not like to accept the reality of the situation. But we all know it's true—lasting happiness is not possible.
However, lasting joy is possible, and eternal happiness is just around the corner for the one who endures through the trials and futility of this world (Matthew 24:13; 2 Timothy 4:8). We are like captives traveling through an underground escape tunnel toward a safe place. As we hold onto Christ, He literally pulls us through this dark place until we emerge in our final and eternal Home. And when we get there, we will have what has been promised: "in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).
God never says we are supposed to plaster on a happy face, even though we are suffering. In fact, Solomon said that "the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning" (Ecclesiastes 7:4) and Jesus Himself was called a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus said "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Sorrow and trials are part of this world, but the joy of the Spirit is the knowledge that the next world will be a place of unending happiness, where every tear is wiped away (Revelation 21:4).
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