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My friends Jim and Marie had devoted themselves to building what they had: a good income, a home in the country and two fine sons now grown into young men. Then came the tragedy: their older son, Jim Jr., had stopped to check the roadside mailbox near their country home, when a truck came over the hill and smashed into him. For Jim and Marie, it was the shattering of dreams. One son was dead, and the country home had become a place of sorrow rather than joy.
Soon there were additional trials. But a year later, as Jim was leaving my home one evening, he turned to me at the door and said, with a smile of puzzled but satisfied discovery, "You know, in the last year, I've lost my son, I've lost my job, and I'm making twenty thousand dollars less per year—and I've never been happier in my life."
That is an amazing statement, testifying to an amazing reality. But it was only the centuries-old testimony of Christian experience, expressed in terms of Jim's particular circumstances. I was the family's pastor, young and inexperienced. It was certainly not my skill or wisdom that had brought healing to Jim's life. He spoke of a spiritual reality that does in fact lead a sufferer to joy in the midst of trials.
For Jim, the discovery of joy did not come by denial of his loss or by some superficial sentimentality. What had happened to him in the year since his son's death was that he had committed his life to Jesus Christ. He had become what the apostle James, over nineteen hundred years before, had called "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." James wrote about this with precisely the application my friend Jim discovered: that it is possible to "consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials."