Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 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. – James 1:2-4
This is a portion of Scripture most of us are probably very familiar with. Hang on to it in the back of your head while we go into Acts for a moment.
Acts 23: God tells Paul he’s going to Rome to testify about Him before Caesar.
Acts 24: Paul was arrested and made to stand before Felix; Felix finds no fault in Paul and offers to let him go free but Paul chooses chains because he wants to stand before Caesar.
Acts 25 & 26: Paul appeals to Caesar and is sent to stand before Agrippa; Agrippa is moved by his story – the Gospel, really – and agrees to let him go stand before Caesar.
Acts 27: Paul boards a boat of prisoners and they set sail for Rome.
The journey was rough to say the least. They sailed against the wind. They sailed right into storms. The boat was tossed about and they came to fear for their lives. Paul advised them, they ignored it. It all got significantly worse. In the midst of this, Paul stands in the middle of the ship and says this,
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” – Acts 27:23-26
Remember, chaos was abounding when the angel spoke to this him, and chaos was likely abounding even as Paul shared it with the men. Not only that, chaos abounded afterwards, too! They had a choice – believe the words God spoke, or bend to their circumstance.
And note, things didn’t get better. They had to throw valuable items overboard to lighten the ship, and eventually they did in fact shipwreck. On Malta. But just like God promised… Paul made it to Rome in Acts 28.
So now we have the whole picture painted. How does this story from Acts connect to where we started in James 1?
Count it all joy…
To count it all joy is to find a reason to rejoice. Sometimes we put undue pressure on ourselves, don’t we? We convince ourselves that counting it all joy means plastering a big, disingenuous smile on our face in the midst of stormy life circumstances and making sure nobody knows what’s really going on behind it. I mean, a good Christian can’t have a bad time in life, right? If we really believe God is good, won’t we be or, at least, always look happy?
I know those sound like ridiculous questions, but sometimes we live like the answer to both of them is “yes” and that is simply not so. I am sure that Paul was not smiling throughout the entirety of that journey in Acts. But I am also sure that the confidence Paul had in the words God spoke to him were all the reason he needed to rejoice anyway, at heart, and to move forward in that confidence. He went from prison, to shipwreck, to Rome because of the confidence that came from rejoicing in God's faithfulness.
Paul knew these circumstances he was sailing through weren’t going to be for nothing. He knew he’d make it to Rome because God said so; he didn’t need to know exactly how it would look. My goodness how exhausting it is to try to figure out details we have absolutely no control over. Paul didn’t need to know the end from the beginning, and every detail in between, to know that God wouldn’t fail to be who He is through it all.
Just as James says, we can count it all joy when we come back to the truth that what we’re going through is producing something in us, and even possibly around us, that nothing else would. It’s not for nothing. In fact, it’s ultimately for the furtherance of the Gospel.
Paul knew that journey wasn’t for nothing. That’s why he had confidence even in the face of shipwreck. What about you?