When Christians hear of the cruciform life they think that misery and sadness will mark their lives. All we have to do is read through the Bible and we quickly find the heart-wrenching cries of the saints. The psalmist’s tears, for example, often mark his prayers. Invoke the words like cross or sacrifice, and people might think that they will only know of sadness and heartbreak. But in an unexpected turn, at a number of points the Bible links joy with the cruciform life. James, for example, writes: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). How can James encourage his readers to rejoice in trials and suffering?
James provides an answer within the immediate context of his statement. When God sends trials our way he does so with the purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ. In this case, James says that trials bolster our faith and yield the fruit of steadfastness. He tells his readers to rejoice, therefore, because God uses trials for their growth in sanctification. Think of the grueling work that an athlete endures in order to win the champion’s trophy. She invests blood, sweat, and tears all for the joy of standing on the winner’s platform and hoisting the medal high in the air for all to see. Winning the prize makes all of the suffering worthwhile. But in the case of the Christian life, we’re not talking about winning a perishable prize but rather conformity to the image of Christ—the ultimate goal of our creation and redemption. (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24ff).
There is another source of joy in the cruciform life, namely, bringing glory to our heavenly Father. My children take great joy when they do something that pleases me. They bound up and tell me, “Look Dad! Look what I’ve done!” I think this captures a small fragment of what it means to receive our heavenly Father’s approving words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). I also believe this is why the author of the book of Hebrews describes the cross as “the joy that was set before” Christ (Heb. 12:2). It was the arena in which Christ unfurled his loving obedience to his Father and the means by which, in love, he redeemed his bride. Suffering and grief undoubtedly marked the way of the cross, but this path was also marked by joy.
Whether in the Christian life or in the ministry, don’t fear the cruciform life. As much as we might wince and fear the Father’s refining fire, we must pray that he would enlarge our eyes of faith, fill us with courage, and that we would find joy as we pilgrim in the way of the cross.