Back in the olden days, when people worked in offices together instead of working from home, there were few things more interesting than watching the fallout when someone turned the thermostat up. You want to learn about your coworkers? Set the temperature to 74 and then just sit back and watch. Tension begins to rise, and the pressure builds. The passive-aggressive ones begin sighing loudly, fidgeting and tapping their keyboards with a little extra zing, trying to communicate precisely how they feel in the vaguest way possible. The shy ones begin to get very uncomfortable, withdrawing into themselves because they know that the pressure is building to something. And sure enough, Erin over there is suddenly feeling the heat, and she’s got no problem letting everyone know how she feels about how hot it is, and who on earth decided to turn the heat up?! And things are about to get a lot more interesting!
Now, instead of someone turning up the heat in an office, let’s talk about what happens when COVID-19 shows up. It’s the same principle: pressure is placed on a group of people, and they are going to respond to that pressure somehow.
And Christian, God tells us that we are to consider it joy when this happens. James 1:2 says, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you experience trials of various kinds. That means we are are to count it joy that we are experiencing COVID-19 right now, and that pressure is being turned up on our lives. That doesn’t mean that we have to deny that things are bad, and could get worse. It simply means that we must look at this trial from a Christian perspective, and there is a reason for personal joy in this trial as there is in every trial.
This particular trial is “of various kinds” all by itself, isn’t it? First, there’s the disease itself, which is frightening and legitimately a reason for serious concern. Second, there’s the economic fallout of our response, as businesses are collapsing, people are losing jobs, and who besides God knows how far-reaching the consequences will be. Third, there’s the concern about government over-reach. Fourth, there are the trials that each family is experiencing as they stay at home together, and my heart breaks for those who are in abusive relationships right now. We could go on here, but I hope the point is made. COVID-19 is a trial with many different faces, and we are to consider it joy.
How? And, why?
God says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
This is what trials are meant to accomplish in the Christian life. They ARE meant to pressure you. When James talks about the “testing of your faith,” he’s not talking about a multiple-choice exam, or a pop quiz. This is the same word Peter uses in his letter when he talks about the tested genuineness of our faith- “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.” There’s a process for purifying precious metals where it is placed in a ridiculously hot fire, and when it is pulled out, impurities in the metals have come to the surface where they can be knocked off. It’s an incredibly intense process, and it’s not exactly gentle either.
In James 1:2-3, that’s what is happening. Trials come into our lives, and when the pressure hits us, what comes out? Impurities. Sin comes out, a lot of the time. James tells us that those sins come from our desires.
And for the Christian, that’s actually a cause for rejoicing if we respond rightly. Because it wasn’t one of your co-workers that went over and turned up the thermostat here. It was God.
The pressure has been turned up in your life in a major way, whatever your fears and concerns about COVID-19 are, and the way you are responding may say a lot about sins that are present in your heart. In fact, you may be pretty unhappy with some of the ways you have responded to what has been going on.
I’ll be honest, I’ve seen a lot of sinful fear on display. I’ve seen a lot of sinful anger, and a good deal of pride too. I’ve seen some clear examples of the sin that comes when idols we rely on are taken away. Sadly, I’ve seen some pretty blatant examples of having zero trust in God. And of course I don’t have to look beyond my own heart and life to see all of those things!
Count it joy.
Why? And, how?
A natural response to seeing our sin on display is guilt, and feeling condemned. After all, we’ve failed again. We’ve been reminded that we are foolish, we are broken, we ARE angry and fearful. Thanks Kevin. As if I needed to remember it. You’re welcome, because you do!
You also need to remember that God has forgiven you if you are trusting in Christ. Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more! He’s not condemning you when he turns the pressure on you. He’s not holding that guilt over you. No, don’t you see what he is doing? He is providing the way out. When precious metals are tested, it is so the impurities can be knocked off and the metal can become pure.
Christian, we are supposed to count it joy when things like COVID-19 come and our sin rears it’s ugly head because God is kindly giving us an opportunity to put off the old man, with its sinful ways, and put on Christlikeness. Come out on the other side of COVID-19 as a more mature Christian because that is definitely what God wants from you, and is certainly one of the reasons God brought this into your life.
Another natural response is pride and stubbornness. Someone might say, “Yeah, so? This is who I am. It’s too late to change now.” Or a fearful person may double-down on their fears, and hold onto them even more tightly. Which is just another form of pride, really. It’s the kind of pride that demands that you know this situation better than God himself, and so you will choose your fear over choosing to trust God.
But again, it wasn’t one of your coworkers who turned the thermostat up. It wasn’t someone who was out to destroy you, either. It was God, who cares for his children as a loving father. The God of all comfort has brought the pressure into your life, Christian, and he tells us the reason when he says, Count it all joy.
What sins are on display in your life right now? What fears? How are you failing to love? How are you failing to trust? Why is there so much anger spilling out? How are you handling the stress? What are you turning to in order to provide relief (drinking? food? porn? posting on Social Media?).
Don’t shy away from those questions; you are meant to ask them right now, and ask them with a confident hope that God has forgiven you already and wants to see you become like Jesus Christ (after all, that’s what becoming “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” really means, isn’t it?).
Consider it joy, that God loves you enough to give you grace and give you the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can grow through trials like this one, and become like Jesus.