Contrary to the way many believers sometimes think and act, Christian joy does not mean that we ignore or deny the pain of suffering and grief. Nevertheless, suffering and grief can lead to joy, for trouble provides an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ and to learn how to walk more intimately with Him. The apostle James, in fact, tells us to “count it all joy” when we endure trials and tribulations (James 1:2).
Be clear that James is not asserting that suffering is a good thing in itself. On its own, pain does not make us joyful; rather, we “count” it as joy when we face difficulties in this life. This is because God uses it to make us mature as He empowers us to endure by faith (vv. 3–4). Hardship considered in isolation is not good, but when we remember that our Lord uses tribulation to sanctify us, we can rejoice that He is refining us and making us holy through permitting pain to enter our lives. Our Father is working everything together for good in the lives of His children, even tragedy; thus, we may courageously look for opportunities to grow as we suffer (Rom. 8:28).
It is often the case that we become more holy only when we meet suffering (Heb. 12:3–17), though this idea is hard to accept because we hear from the culture, and often the church, that God owes us a life altogether free of emotional and physical pain. Yet our Creator’s promise is that He will be with us in our troubles and lead us through dark valleys — not that our life will be easy (Ps. 23:4). So we rejoice in His comforting presence and guidance, and not in the pain itself.
Counting our suffering as joy is certainly easier said than done. Still, one fundamental biblical truth can help us find joy in our pain, namely, that all of our difficulties are limited in duration. For the believer, pain is not forever, as there is a new heaven and earth coming (Rev. 21). God will one day right all wrongs and thus wipe away every tear from our eyes.
The prophet Habakkuk reminds us that the Lord will make us as sure-footed as the deer who traverses high and dangerous mountain paths with ease (Hab. 3:19). As we trust in Him to impart strength and confidence to us, He will work in our hearts to lead us to rejoice even when times are lean and painful (vv. 17–18).