When James tells the believers to “count it all joy when [they] fall into various trials,” it can sound a bit insensitive (James 1:2). In addition to all their suffering, are they supposed to be happy about it? Are they to hide their discomfort and pain behind a fixed smile? How can such an injunction be shared from Christ-like love?
It’s helpful to observe his wording in this straight counsel. Joy comes from knowing the effect of trials, not from the trials themselves; it comes from seeing the long-term effect rather than the short-term experience. Like Paul, James is not saying that all things are good, but that all things can work together for good (Rom. 8:28). Instead of focusing on the difficulties, he urges them to focus on their response (the only part they can control) and to notice the development of essential Christ-like traits within them.
Pain and discomfort often cause a hyper-focus on oneself: that is, when someone is in pain, it is hard for them to see anything else. Believers can be tempted to do whatever it takes to avoid suffering altogether; but then they would miss out on essential growth in faith and in grace, or worse, resort to causing suffering in others to avoid it themselves. Look at the long term, James urges, and do not be caught up with the various trials of the present. Lean into them for what God can do with them, and do not fixate on the trials themselves. We are not saved through relishing trials; we are saved by the One who sees us through them.
James goes on to append the guarantee for wisdom with the condition of unwavering faith, that is, faith “with no doubting” (James 1:6). Instead of prescribing an arbitrary punishment for the one who doubts, James describes the reality that faith is required in order to receive anything from God. Faith is a convicted realization, a confidence in unseen realities (Heb. 11:1). Because God does not currently walk this earth in a physical and visual form, we require faith to interact with Him and thus also to receive gifts, including wisdom.
Just as a wave whipped about by wind provides no stability, neither does a heart and mind without faith in God’s character and His power. Faith means to be convinced of both His existence and ability as well as His willingness to reward “those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
With faith, the believer can benefit from various trials, lean on the Source of wisdom, and have an abiding joy in God all the while.