The first instruction in James was, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2). That advice still seems strange.

I’m not naturally inclined to equate joy with “trials.” Most of us aren’t. We tend instead to equate joy with happiness. Indeed, our everyday language treats these two words as meaning the same thing.

Yet joy and happiness are actually quite different—and the difference is more than just nuance or degree. “Happiness” is satisfaction or thriving derived out of the experience of this world. Approval, laughter, riches, and success all feed it. By contrast, “joy,” being an attribute of the spirit (see Galatians 5:22), does not require these things. It can follow a counterintuitive path.

“Let your laughter be turned to mourning,” James says. Let your joy be turned to gloom (4:9).

That is, trust your joy. Trust it enough to allow it to flow into gloom. Do not seek trials for their own sake (the advice is not masochistic), but look for the renewal of joy within the trials that do come. The wilderness is uncomfortable, but it is a place of searching. Our trials constitute a wilderness in which there is less happiness to distract us from joy.

The notion still seems strange. James’ letter provides more detail. In fact, this far into the letter, we have now tracked the transformation. Look here:

1. We seek joy in trials (James 1:2).

2. Trials offer a way to wisdom (1:3-5).

3. Wisdom produces humility (3:13).

4. The humble receive grace (4:6) and are lifted by God (4:10).

The resurrection does not explicitly appear in James’ letter. Yet the progression above outlines a course of personal rebirth. We die into humility within this life, and we are raised up into joy.

[31 Days of James]