Take a moment to think about your favorite movie- the best movie you’ve ever seen. It could be an Oscar winner or maybe it’s been your favorite since you were seven. Now- consider why you chose that movie. What is it that makes it stand out to you? The director, the costumes, the soundtrack— it could be any number of things. For me a great movie is marked by a great story. I love the kind of story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and sort of displaces you from your world to the characters’ world for a couple of hours. One of those where you’re sucked into the screen and every twist and turn seems unbelievably real.

With most movies you’re rarely left with just a great plot and unresolved conflict. The must-have for any great movie is a great ending. Chances are your favorite movie is on the top of your list because the ending left you with something to remember. Maybe it was an unforeseen plot twist or a tear-jerking reunion— whatever the ending may be, it’s easy to say that every great story has a great ending. But let me flip the script; perhaps what’s even more true is that every great ending has an even greater story.

Think about it. Would your favorite movie be as memorable if all you got was the end result and no journey, no conflict and no resolution? As I bounced this thought around with my wife, she made a great point— take a movie like The Notebook (not my personal favorite, but hang with me). That movie has a great ending. It’s one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. “A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom. They are soon separated by their social differences but in the end find their way back to each other.” Now would we feel the same way if all we got from the movie was that two people fell in love, then fell out of love, and then back into love, and then (spoiler alert) died at the end? Absolutely not.  We love the movie because we love the story.

What’s ironic is that we love hearing stories but hate actually living them. If you were to go through the same things as some of your favorite characters, you’d be begging for someone to roll the credits and get it over with! But that’s the world we live in— a world that is all about final result and instant gratification. It happens all the time; we want to lose that 10 pounds of winter weight but cringe at the thought of diet and exercise. We want to get those grades up but won’t even pick up the book. We want all of the benefits without any of the work. We want the ending without the story.

The same applies to our relationship with Jesus. We have an ideal in our head of how we should live, speak, love and think— but somewhere along the way we will fall short and fail to live up to the picture perfect ending we had in mind. Rest in knowing the perfect ending is reserved for the only one who ever embodied perfection. We, on the contrary, are destined to fail— but that’s all part of the journey. It’s important that we find joy in the process of being continually molded into the image of Christ. When we learn to embrace the growing pains, endure the hardship and cherish the moments of eye-opening revelation, we discover that God is writing a greater story than we ever imagined.

That’s why James challenges us-

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)

Enduring the pain is our chance to grow. When troubles come our way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. Find joy in the journey, for God is in the process of making you perfect and complete; of putting the pieces back together and helping you function like you’re made to. While the journey might be full of hurt, disappointment and failure, “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) Real joy doesn’t come from the picture perfect result we see in our head, it comes from knowing God chose us to be a part of His story.