“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” (1 Peter 1:6, NASB95)
Robin and I moved with our kids to Oregon on October 1, 1994 following nine months of trying to endure in the San Fernando Valley after the Northridge earthquake. It was a difficult season leading up to our move, but after a great deal of searching and waiting we agreed together to do so. I contacted a large nationally known mortgage company and made arrangements to come up and work with them. Leaving our home church was difficult, but they sent us with a wonderful letter of transfer. After a bit I was asked by our new home church if I would like to help teach the adult Sunday School class. At first I resisted, but then agreed to do so. Next came the question of what to teach. I looked through what I had taught previously, and was led to something that I had not. I decided to teach through the book of James.
On the first Sunday of June in 1995 I taught the first verse and gave a brief overview. Then I began the work of preparing to teach the next three verses. During that week, we were notified that there was a mandatory Thursday office meeting at the mortgage company. At the meeting, we were told that their small market offices were being closed as of the end of work that day. The verses I was working on were James 1:2-4 which read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB)
The tough season was going to continue, and not only had I read that I was to actively consider this ongoing season of trial joy, but that I was also expected to teach it to others. To this day, with some who are close to me, we speak of these times as James moments. But James was not alone in associating trials with joy. Here Peter wrote saying, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” What a combination of words we find in this passage! In the same verse, we read “rejoice” and “distressed.” These two emotions in normal terms could not be further apart from each other. We are accustomed to rejoicing in that which gives us joy and becoming distressed over that which gives us sorrow. Joy and sorrow are seemingly incompatible. How do we reconcile the two into one situation, and especially to the level described here where we “greatly rejoice”?
Rejoice here is the Greek word “agallio,” and it means to be exceedingly glad or to leap for joy. The roots of the word literally mean much leaping or springing up. It has the meaning of responding to trial reflexively with joy. Our response to trials is to bounce to joy. Sure, it may not be automatic, but it can be as we grow in our understanding of our reason for joy which is our certain hope because of the unfailing promises of our unlimited and infinitely faithful God.
We are not immune to trials because we have a God who separates us from trials. Rather, we have a God who brings us through those trials. The Lion King movie may have planted into our minds the words, “Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze. It means no worries for the rest of your days. It's our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata!” It’s a great song, but how true are its words? What is meant by its words? Have you really thought about them? Is there any such thing as a care-free existence? The Bible seems to say otherwise. We read that we are not as much to be care-free as we are to be joy-filled. We are not to be problem-free but to have hope in our problems, including those that might cause us to become greatly distressed.
Distress is something that may come upon us unsuspected like a wave on the beach. Our response to that wave determines how we stand as it crashes in. To become overwhelmed and panic is to see the wave as that which is most fully in control. To quickly recognize that we have a God who enables us to stand firm enables us to see that wave in perspective and to find our great hope in our God who even holds that wave in His hands and limits its power and even its duration.
What might seem like an enduringly long period of time to us, we are reminded in this verse, is momentary in the eternal scheme of things. Peter, in talking about rejoicing, in distress tells us that whatever it is, it is only going to push in on us “now for a little while.” It will come and then it will be gone, but the faithfulness of our God will never fade. This is the truth of Scripture, and it is because of these truths—these things we know of Him, His promises to us, and that powerful hand of His Spirit on our lives that we are sealed for the great hope that awaits us on the other side whether that other side is later today or in His eternal presence. Whatever it is, it will pass and God is firmly in control. We are to rejoice in the certainty of His hand on us and His sovereign power at work on our behalf.
James tells us that it is through these very trials that we see the faithfulness of God demonstrated and that we grow in our faith and our ability to endure the next ones. What seems like big potatoes now, may seem like small potatoes later as we are prepared to experience possibly even bigger ones in the future or maybe even to help others through their trails because of how God has helped us.
I wish the Northridge earthquake was the biggest trial we would have ever had to experience. At the time, it was big enough. But the reality is that we have experienced others since, and we are even experiencing them now. Sometimes I do not respond as well as I do at others. Sometimes my faith is weak as I look to the size or the pressing nature of the problem, and in them I feel the meaning of what it is to be distressed. It is then that I am looking at the situation without the great hope I have in Christ and getting things outside of their proper perspective. But when I step back, turn my eyes to God, and I take times even as right now to focus on His truth and let them soak into my heart and mind, I find that His Spirit does that incredible work of quieting the storm and increasing my joy. What makes the difference from my side of things is not that the problems go away, but that I make a purposeful choice to look to God and rejoice in who He is, what He has promised, and trust even for the moment in His promise to bring me through to the other side.