My least favorite Bible verse in my younger days was “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
What? Joy? Facing trials…going through fire? Where’s the joy in that?
Yes, I will have to go through trials of many kinds in my life, but to think of it as pure joy was beyond me.
Yes, trials develop perseverance which develops spiritual maturity, as James goes on to say. But my attitude was more like: keep your head down . . . endure it . . . trust God to get you through it.
(Can you picture my teeth clenched as I endured?)
Thankfully, I have gained some understanding through the years.
I want people to see Jesus in me. Ah. There’s the conundrum. There’s only one way for people to see Jesus in us, and that is trial by fire .
When gold is fired, slag rises to the surface and is scooped off. Sometimes, it takes a while. The fire is hot, and the slag continues to rise until it has all been removed. It’s then that the person removing the slag can look into the purified gold and see his reflection.
Just as it is with gold, when our faith is put through fire, all the slag of sin comes to the surface. We see in ourselves what we hadn’t seen before and confess our sins to the Lord. He cleanses us. Sometimes, it takes a while. The fire is hot, and the slag of sin continues to rise to the top until we’ve been cleansed. It’s then that Jesus can see His reflection in us. He can shine through us, so the world can see Him in us. And He is glorified.
Trials of fire are not fun. Yet being joyful is very different than being happy in fun times. I’ve learned through the years that I can be joyful even in trials, because Jesus is with me, just like He was with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego when they were thrown into the fiery furnace.
“And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, ‘Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said unto the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God’” (Daniel 6:23-25).
I’ve never been thrown into a literal fiery furnace with flames licking at my body. However, I’ve been through many fiery trials. There have been long nights filled with pain; long days when the tears flowed. There have been weeks of despair and wondering what the next day would bring. There have been months of heartbreak that I thought would never end. The thing that brought me through was knowing Jesus was right there with me, holding my hand, comforting me, leading me. And I knew He wouldn’t leave me there. That’s where the joy comes in . . . knowing He will carry me through by His grace and mercy, and I will come out on the other side closer to Him, more able to reflect His image to the world.
A friend, who is in Heaven now, went through several years of an agonizingly painful trial. Yet whenever you saw her, all you saw was Jesus in her . . . a positive attitude, a brilliant smile, and love overflowing from her generous heart. She could have grown bitter. Instead, she chose to hold onto Jesus for dear life as she walked through the fire. Her journey ended in Heaven, pure joy and no pain. And during that journey, Jesus was glorified through her.
I’m very grateful for those times of reprieve when I’m up on the mountain, spiritually, and everything is smooth and peaceful. Yet I know that I can’t stay on the mountain top forever. There will be another trial down the road, because Jesus is more concerned with my spiritual growth than my comfort. Still, I know He will be with me through the fire. I know He will not leave me there. And through each trial, I pray that I will be able to say like Job, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). And one blessed day, He’ll take me by the hand, like He did my friend, and lead me Home . . . pure joy and no pain.