The counsel of the Bible can sound contrary to all reason—and against our best interests—while showing us the meaning of wisdom.
For instance, the Apostle James says something that could sound more like mental illness than spiritual health. He encourages his readers to “count it all joy when they fall into various kinds of trials and temptations: (James 1:2) To our flesh, such advice sounds masochistic (as if we are to take pleasure in pain or in being hurt).
In a recent team chapel, however, our friend Joe Stowell of Strength for the Journey reminded us that while the word “joy” is an emotional word, the word “count” is not. “Count” represents a Greek word that means either “to have power or control over” or, as in the context of James 1:2, “to consider” with the mind.
The word picture in view is what happens in the financial or mathematical accounting practice of adding up debits and credits to get a current balance or bottom line. It’s what happens in our checkbook or bank statement when we put expenses in the minus column and deposits in the plus column.
In other words, James, in behalf of our God, is not asking us to feel good when something difficult or bad happens to us. Rather he is urging us to believe, as a matter of faith, that the painful tests and temptations that come into our lives belong in the plus column—even though they seem like minuses.
It’s no new revelation. But the truth is easy to forget if we try to measure it by our feelings. Up until this point in our lives, our experience has confirmed what we would rather not believe. Without trouble we would soon forget the meaning of faith. Our character would not deepen. We wouldn’t be challenged to learn the ways of wisdom. We’d remain like children at best. At worst, we’d gradually become demonic in our love of short-sighted, meaningless pleasure. We’d lose sight of our need for God. We wouldn’t experience the spiritual strength, presence, comfort, and grace that he wants to give us.
For me, the clarification about the meaning of “count” was a helpful reminder. It was also a reality check. I needed to let it sink in that our God doesn’t ask us to be happy about the difficult, painful, awful matters of our lives. But he does ask us to learn to “count” on his understanding– rather than on our own.
Doesn’t mean it will be easy. Does mean it’s what it takes to find perspective… and wisdom that is worth more than gold (1Peter 1:5-7).