Count it All Joy — Welcoming Trials as Friends
By ANNIE WESCHE
To my dear friend, Did you grow up hearing about the great missionaries in Christian history, like I did? To me, theirs were the real adventure stories, and I ate them up like the last berries on the bush, each one savored. I owe much of my spiritual hunger to what I read about their lives — the danger and trial, adventure and waiting, daring rescues and souls saved, sacrifice and pain. Even reading about some of the deaths they died stirred something deep within me. Truthfully, I was enormously intimidated by the hardness they went through, but I earnestly wanted what I saw they gained from it all — their faith, their joy, their fortitude, their endurance, their courage, their prayer lives, their peace, their power to overcome, their impact upon a hurting world, their knowledge of God’s Word, and most of all, their intimate love for Jesus. These people were to me humble heroes, unsung mighties with a real power to their lives, an overcomer’s power, with true joy. And I wanted it.
But despite my deep desire for heroic Christianity, my flesh has the most impressive talent for avoiding anything that hints of discomfort. And the world, dear friend, through every possible avenue, will side with our flesh and tell us that suffering is something to be avoided. That we “deserve better.”
Yet God presents a completely different perspective on trials and hardship — one that has the audacity to say these trials, challenges, discomforts, and hard things are actually good to embrace. They are filled with purpose, allowed by a loving and all-wise God, and are meant to actually accomplish something good for us. Really good. Just listen to these amazing declarations:
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial…” (James 1:12 NASB).
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have it’s perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2).
“That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Christ” (I Peter 1:7).
Blessed? All joy? All things for good? More precious than gold? This lens for seeing trials is so contrary to our natural eyes, and yet these are the very words God has given to you and I in the midst of our struggles!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “welcome trials as friends”? I used to wonder at this saying, but in these past two years in Haiti, I’ve made the most amazing discovery! Friends are to be found in the midst of hard things, and it’s far too great a joy not to introduce you to just a couple of them that I’ve encountered during this beautiful, yet trying season. It’s my hope, dear one, that you’ll see perhaps a friend or two waiting to be found in your own present trials. And you know what? These friends have the astonishing ability to use the hardest moments in our lives to produce the deepest joy.
The first one I want to tell you about I came to know as Shambles. I had been in Haiti just over a year and my appearance was totally falling apart. (Please don’t laugh.) Because of it, I was being suffocated by insecurity and discontent. My clothes were all stained and torn. My hair was sun-scorched with split-ends. My skin, weight, and energy levels showed the effects of our Haitian diet made up mostly of sugar and starch, with little to no vegetables. My feet were calloused. My skin had various rashes and irritations from bug bites and parasites. All my usual beauty products and favorite toiletries were nearly gone, and at this particular pinnacle of my appearance woes, the heat was so intense that there was absolutely NO reprieve from being sweaty. I tried to endure with a winning attitude, but eventually I let it all land me in a pile of tears and misery.
It was at this height of my discomfort and self-pity that my new friend Shambles walked right up to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and boldly challenged me on what was beautiful to Jesus. I was taken aback (and quick to justify my tears) when this new friend reminded me that beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (See Proverbs 31:30.) This friend wasn’t afraid to confront me on what was far more unattractive than worn out clothes, rashes, and sweaty skin — the outright ugliness of my self pity and complaining spirit. This beloved friend reminded me that my outward appearance will change throughout different seasons and circumstances in life, but the beauty of godly character and love for Jesus will only grow more beautiful with time.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I love to dress like a lady, prefer green smoothies to beans and rice, and desire a bit of smooth curl to my hair, but I have embraced this new friend with a deep gratitude. Shambles led me through a challenging season (I’ve since restocked needed toiletries, replaced some clothing, and had my hair trimmed a time or two), and she still returns from time to time to remind me that I no longer have to look to my appearance to determine my joy or security. Jesus determines it. And He is always beautiful.
“They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed” (Psalm 34:5).
“Do not let your beauty be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:3).
The second friend I want to tell you about bears the rather unpleasant name Affliction. In May, I contracted a rather bizarre virus called Chikungunya, which, for about a month, introduced me to severe joint pain, migraines, and a full body rash. The pain in my hips, knees, and feet kept me almost entirely in bed and the pain in my wrists and hands made using that time for computer work difficult. But one day while icing my feet and itching my skin, this friend came and knelt down by my bedside. This friend shared with me what it’s like for those who suffer chronic pain or arthritis. This friend stayed with me hour after hour, helped me increase my personal tolerance of pain, and taught me to have a praising heart in the midst of it. This friend led me into long stretches of being alone with Jesus where my prayer life was rekindled with new passion. And since this friend came and went, I’ve never been the same. I will always remember that this beloved friend brought into my life new compassion and empathy, the practice of solitude with Jesus, and a more fervent, living prayer life. The pain, though fierce, was temporary, but the spiritual fruit of this friendship has been lasting!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches” (Psalm 63:3-6).
I know these trials are rather smallish compared to the daily suffering we see all around us here. We all have hard things, but what I’ve come to realize during this season in Haiti is that we each are given our own hard. You have something hard you are facing right now. Mine can sound a bit dramatic at times, living in Haiti, but whether overwhelming or smallish, each and every one of our trials is allowed by a God who is intimately acquainted with all our ways and knows just what we need in our lives to lead us to a greater knowledge of Him, and greater strength of soul and character. He knows our personal weakness and has come to bring His strength there. He knows our fears and has come to bring us to unshakeable faith. He sees our strongholds of sin and has come to bring us true victory. He understands our tendency for self-centerdness, but will teach our eyes to look on others with love and compassion. He has come to give us life, and life more abundantly. And in complete wisdom, unfailing grace, and perfect love, He knows just what road will take us there!
Dear sister, God isn’t interested in cushioning us in our comfort zones, but in conforming us to the character of His Son. If we always run to the shallow comforts of the world, we’ll never experience the deep ocean of His comfort. If we demand ease, we’ll never develop strength of soul. If we insist on staying safe, we’ll never know His mighty protection. If we run from loss, we’ll never lay hold of the gain that lasts forever. And if we fill up our lives with trivial joys, we’ll never taste the fullness of joy in Jesus himself. We can count it all joy because even the hardest things, when we believe God’s word, lead us to know Jesus Himself — and, my dear, there is no greater, no truer, no more faithful a friend, than He!
Praying for you in the midst of your own hardships, dear one. May you run to Jesus. Count it all joy. You’ll find Him faithful!
With love and great joy,