The idea the Lord’s half-brother James led off his epistle with, is particularly counter-intuitive to our modern, Western mind set.
“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
It’s a familiar passage to people who have been in a Bible-teaching church, but it may seem just as odd, or a powerless cliché in the hearts of those who hear it from inside the church as to those on the outside.
Think of it. The response to adversity and crises such as financial loss, broken relationship, loss of status or even potentially life-threatening sickness is supposed to be…joy? Surely this is some kind of symbolism or play on words.
But there it is, right in the Scripture. The response for God’s people to these hardships is supposed to be joy, an inner contentment and satisfaction steeled against all circumstances.
The passage goes on to say why we should count it as joy, and that’s where our article subject comes in.
Debbie and Willie Jones were not sure about having an article written about their situation. Debbie (if you’re reading this you probably know her and already know this) was diagnosed with cancer, has been undergoing chemotherapy and is scheduled for surgery on June 3.
Their concern about the article wasn’t that they want their situation to be secret, but that they would be the center of attention somehow, rather than God.
“We want much to be made of Him,” is how Willie put it.
Well that is my goal too, I assured them, and so as I affirm that I like these two and admire their faith, I also want to make clear I know it is due to God’s gracious provision that they can respond this way, just as the above verse mentions.
Paul put it in a similar way in Romans 5:3 - “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.”
He explains a little later in the letter that context, or recognizing the big picture, is a big part of understanding this idea:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18
Debbie is not impervious to normal, human reactions to bad news. Upon learning of her cancer diagnosis in January, she felt fear, she admitted.
But fear was quickly overtaken by other feelings and understanding.
“The Lord was so near. I haven’t questioned Him at all through any of this,” Debbie said. “God is sovereign and there is reason for the things He allows in our lives. There is a purpose behind this. I don’t question Him.”
“We’re Christ-followers. He suffered far more than this for me,” she continued. “If this is what He uses to bring others to Christ or to bring our family closer to the Lord, it’s His choice. There’s no anger or doubt.”
Scripture supports the comment. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” – Hebrews 2:9
Debbie and Willie’s response should serve as an inspiration to people who trust in Christ. It’s also being noticed by people outside of the body. Debbie and Willie have hosted a number of students from the Middle East in recent years, who have been able to see their grace under fire from up close, just as they did under less trying circumstances before.
People in the health care community have also had a good bit of exposure to this as Debbie goes through her treatment. She shared that an assigned “navigator” expressed her happiness that the family continues to speak of Jesus while going through illness.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” - 1 Peter 2:12
Debbie is clear that the idea of embracing trial is not contradictory to the heart of the Gospel itself.
“He doesn’t promise we won’t go through trials,” she said. “He promises He will walk through them with us.”
Along with building the afflicted person’s faith and being a testimony to others, Debbie’s trial has also provided an opportunity for believers to show love in tangible ways, and they have.
“Over and over he affirms His love for us through all the cards, encouragement, acts of love and prayers,” Debbie said of the people of Gray Road. “I feel the power of people lifting me up. This just overwhelms us. What a comfort that is. The people (at GRBC) are every bit as much our family as our real family. They have been His hands and feet. I’ve got a whole basket brimming full of cards, I get one almost every day—plus texts and just about everything imaginable.”
“God has definitely been loving us through His people,” Willie added. “It’s not imaginary.”
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” - 2 Corinthians 13:11
This comfort has also come in the form of meals when she is going through chemotherapy, which often brings with it excessive fatigue.
Debbie is glad to report while originally another set of treatments was required, her final chemo sessions was scheduled for May 12, with her tumor having shrunk and lymph nodes looking normal. Surgery is scheduled for June 3.
The passages in Scripture are also numerous and clear about God’s ability to heal.
“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” – Matthew 4:23
Debbie believes this just as she believes God can and does use suffering for His purposes. She knew this teaching before she was diagnosed, but now has had the chance to truly live it.
“You never know how you will handle it when it comes, but I always hoped my response would be pleasing,” she said. “That by His strength I could be genuinely thankful. God in His sovereignty has said yes to this. People look at me like, ‘You are thankful for cancer?’ But He says be thankful for all things. He said ‘yes’ to cancer in his sovereignty, and I trust Him.”