A sister wrote to me recently desiring me to tell her how she might find sweetness and joy in her trials. She seemed to have in her mind an ideal experience in which she could be joyous and calm and sweetly contented while undergoing trials, and she was struggling to attain to her ideal.
This sister is not alone in her reaching out after such an experience. People often chide and condemn themselves because they have not attained to such heights. When they suffer and are distressed in their trials, they think there is something wrong with their experience, and they become discouraged. The Bible lifts the standard just to the place where it ought to be; and if we have a higher ideal, we are sure to be constantly coming short of it.
My answer to the sister was that she was looking in the wrong place for the sweetness and joy. Jesus is our example, and we can expect trials to have the same effect upon us as they had upon him. In that dark hour of trial in Gethsemane, with the heavy weight of the cross already upon his spirit, did he say to his disciples, |Behold, how joyful I am in such awful circumstances|? Ah, no! his state was very different, and we hear him say, |My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.| He was |a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.| When he hung upon the cross, he cried out in agony, |My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?| Do you think there was joy or sweetness in that? Such feelings had no place in his emotions that day. But there was joy connected with these trials. We read that |for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross| (Heb.12: 2). Here we have endurance and joy, but we do not find them together: the endurance is present; the joy is |set before him.| This is the order in which such things come to us. Christ's joy came, not from his sufferings, but from the result of these sufferings. His joy is in the redeemed souls that have been saved through his sufferings.
Our own trials will of necessity mean suffering, and there can be little joy in suffering. Joy never has its direct origin in suffering; but it does often come out of suffering, or as a result of enduring suffering. The order in which it works is clearly seen in Heb.12: 11 -- |Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.| This is what you may expect -- grievousness in time of trial and chastening, and afterward the reaping of joy. The Bible speaks of our being |in heaviness through manifold temptations,| and also says, |We count them happy which endure.| Enduring implies suffering; and suffering, of itself, can never be joyful. We might, in a figure, say that suffering is the soil in which the tree of patient endurance grows, and that joy is the ripened fruit of the tree.
There are many different kinds of trials, and they have different effects. Sometimes they are like a great storm that sweeps over the soul, when the dashing rain obscures all view of the distant landscape and its beauties, when the howling of the wind, the flashing of the lightning, and the rolling of the thunder shuts out everything else and holds our entire attention. It is only when the storm is over and the calm has come, that we can look out again upon the broad and peaceful landscape. There are other trials that remind one of a nail in one's shoe: everywhere one goes, it is present, irritating, annoying, torturing. It hinders and detracts from all the common pleasures of life.
When trials come, there is just one proper way to meet them; that is, with determination to overcome them and to keep our integrity during the time that we are suffering under them. It was the joy set before Jesus that made him strong to suffer. And so we, if we would be strong for our trials, must look beyond them to the joy that is set before us. It is what is coming out of the trials that is the source of our rejoicing. If you have endured some trial -- something that took real courage and fortitude -- and you look back upon it and realize that you stood true, that you did not yield nor falter, is it not a source of great joy to your soul? When you see the grace that God gave you, does it not strengthen and encourage you?
You desire the peaceful fruit of righteousness in your life; you want joy, peace, victory; but remember that these are the |afterwards| of patient endurance through the trial or chastening. You must wait for the fruit to ripen. If you try to enjoy it before it is ripe, you may find it works like eating a green persimmon -- you not only will spoil the fruit, but will find some unpleasant consequences.
There are certain kinds of trials that bring forth joy quickly if they are met in the right spirit. We read that the early Christians |took joyfully the spoiling of their goods,| and again that they |rejoiced that they were counted worthy| to suffer for the name of Christ. This was persecution. Often we can |rejoice and leap for joy,| not because of the persecution, but because of the fact that great is our reward in heaven. The joy comes from the contemplation of that reward. We suffer the persecution; we rejoice in the reward of our patient endurance.
If we walk close to God, we shall find that in the midst of our trials, even when they are bitter, there is an undercurrent of sweet joyfulness away down in the depths of our souls. The consciousness that we are the Lord's, that he loves us, and that he is our helper will be sweet in the midst of all our woes. This may sometimes be obscured by doubts and fears for a time, but if we hide away under his wings and trust securely, the harp of joy will sound in our souls though in the tumult of emotions. We may sometimes have to listen carefully, however, to hear the soft, sweet strains of its melody.
Be patient in your trials; endure hardness as a good soldier; keep up the shield of faith; fight the good fight; and in due season your soul will sing triumphant songs of victory, and the joy-bells, pealing out their merry music, will summon God's people to rejoice with you in your Lord and Savior.