God, our Resource in Affliction and in Joy

"Does any one among you suffer evil (affliction)? Let him pray.Is any happy? Let him sing psalms." (James 5:13)

James frees the mind from worldly habits. Men seek to deceive themselves by avoiding thought. They would foolishly ignore the cares and troubles, from which they cannot escape, and amidst which, thanks be to God, He provides a refuge to the heart in His love, and in the sense of His care for us.

He would not have us insensible to the troubles of this life. God, who never withdraws His eyes from the righteous, sends or allows them for our good. Even a sparrow does not fall to the ground without our Father--not only, without the will of God, but that God who loves us as a tender Father. He may indeed chasten us, but thinks upon us while chastening, in order to sanctify us and to draw our hearts nearer to Himself.

By drawing near to God in affliction, the will is subdued, and the heart consoled and encouraged. God Himself is revealed to the soul and works by His grace. In the sense of His presence, we say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Ps. 119:71). Not only are we near to God, but we also open our hearts to Him. He would have us do this, for He is full of grace. He desires our confidence, not only that we may be subject to His will, but that we may present our cares to Him.

"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). Paul is speaking here of cares, but comfort and rest are equally found there. "Who comforteth us," says the apostle in 2 Cor. 1:4, "in all our afflictions," and he appeals to God as "the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, or "encouragement."

At Philippi, they were filled with peace through the consolation poured into their hearts. This may also come through circumstances, for Paul says, "God, who comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus" (2 Cor. 7:6). He had been utterly cast down, because he had not met Titus, who had been sent to the Corinthians when they were walking very badly. He had abandoned the open door for the gospel at Troas, and his heart had even gone the length of regretting that he had written his first inspired epistle. His faith had sunk below the level of the power of God, which had impelled him to write it.

Arrived at Macedonia, still on his way to meet Titus, though testifying to Christ as he went, his flesh had no rest. He says, "We were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears." God allowed the apostle to feel his weakness; but it is worthwhile to be afflicted, if God Himself becomes our Comforter. Titus arrives bringing good tidings to the effect of his first epistle, and the apostle is then full of joy.

God often takes away the affliction itself and fills the soul with gladness, pouring His consolations into the heart, which thus becomes more matured for communion with Himself and for heaven.

In every case of affliction, prayer is our resource; we own our dependence and we confide in His goodness. The heart draws near to Him. It tells out to Him its need and its sorrow, laying it down on the throne and the heart of God, who answers either by circumstances which make us happy, or by pouring in His consolation--an answer which is still more blessed than outward happiness--but ever by that which is best for us, acting according to His perfect love.

The pious heart, under the influence of grace, refers also to God in its joy. If the heart dwells only on the cause of its joy, this becomes a danger for it. But if God is a refuge in distress, so is He that portion of the soul in joy. When I have a subject of happiness, I tell my intimate friend, that he may rejoice with me, and this doubles my own joy. But, in this passage, there is something more; for the heart feels that God is the source of the blessing and the cause of the joy. Even when there is no special reason for rejoicing, the heart is happy, and the pious soul, living in communion with God, desires to have God with it in its joy.

Moreover, if the soul gives itself up to joy, it becomes empty and light; the heart gets estranged from God, and folly takes possession of it. In trouble, dependence upon God is realized, but in joy there is a danger of forgetting it, and joy often ends in a fall; at any rate, the flesh is then in activity, and God is forgotten. This exhortation of James, to mingle joy with piety, is therefore, most important for the Christian.

If the thought of God is there, it expresses itself in psalms (this does not mean the psalms of David, but, being happy, he is to give vent to his joy in the praise of the Lord) and thanksgivings to Him. God is present to us in our joy, and faith. Communion, and spiritual power are increased by the sense of His goodness. Thus we apply ourselves to the toils of life, encouraged and strengthened through the sorrows of the wilderness, by a deeper conviction that God is for us.