Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on James 1: Joy in the trials

Yesterday I wrote about James' command to have joy in the struggles of life.  I suppose it's important to define what we mean by joy, and we could qualify that notion in such a way that we're not jumping up and down and celebrating when we "encounter various trials."  Still, no matter how we define joy, it's important to ask ourselves: How can we live out this passage?  What does this mean in our everyday lives and what does this mean in really difficult circumstances?  

A long-time friend of mine, Val Wilson, wrote this in response, and I asked if I could share it.  Incidentally, Val is an amazing worship leader, and you can find more about her and her CD by clicking on the link.  

James 1:2-5 -
 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Not exactly my favorite scripture.  I mean, I can read it and say, yes this is true because God says it, so this is what I'm supposed to do, but honestly, God...joy?  As we've learned previously, we know that Heb. 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before him."  And, interestingly, right before that in verse 1 it says we are to persevere, just as James says.  In fact, here's the Hebrews passage: 
 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Now, I am no theologian, so this is me shooting straight from the hip and, frankly, could be very wrong.  I don't know how to "feel" joy during the trial.  Sometimes, when I am able to completely surrender, I am filled with joy, but in all honesty, it doesn't remain indefinitely.  I've always struggled with the James passage because I just don't feel joy during the trials!  And as I sit and ponder this, I really don't know if that's actually the goal anyway.  Let's face it!  How can we feel a constant sense of joy when there is so much pain, overwhelming pain, pain that threatens to destroy us.  It seems rather inauthentic and for me to be false before God, who knows me better than I know myself, well that just doesn't make sense.
So, how do we go about allowing ourselves to feel the pain of the trial, yet experience the joy, and where does the wisdom come in that God promises?  Wisdom seems to be the key here.
Well I hope you can sense my struggle.  I hope I can find some answers.  I pulled out an old book my parents gave me by J. Vernon McGee.  He actually tied Hebrews 12 together with James 1 as well!  He agrees with my inauthenticity argument and says, "People piously say they have accepted God's will yet go around with a long face and weep half the time.  My friend, you are not reconciled to the will of God until you can rejoice."  He goes on to say that James is really discussing the attitude of our hearts towards the trial.  He says the joy is the result of the trial.  That doesn't necessarily sound to me like we need to be bouncing off the walls full of joy when our hearts are being ripped out from within us!  We have to go through the trial and somehow we find joy!  And joy comes from rejoicing!  Have you ever tried to rejoice when you feel you can't?  God just pours it out upon me when I try that!  I may have tears of pain flowing down my face simultaneously, but yes I feel joy!  Am I feeling joy in my actual circumstances?  Probably not, I'm feeling joy because God is giving it to me!  I just find it hard to stay in that place.
So patience (perseverance) and wisdom....patience is a fruit of the Spirit...we earn that by going through trials.  Wisdom God gives to us.  Would we be able to weather the trials better with more wisdom?  Certainly because we'd know what to do and what decisions to make!  I realize I'm throwing lots of stuff out there today and I'm not really developing it; I'm going to trust God to work some of this out in you and me...I haven't given myself enough time to digest this either!  But for me, here's my biggest take home lesson today. 
I will continue to struggle with considering it all joy to go through trials.  That's okay.  I will continue to be authentic before my God, who knows me best, and I will let him know of my struggle.  I will ask him for joy.  And I will rejoice.  I will rejoice in whatever I can in the moment.  There is more than enough grace here.  I can always rejoice in my Savior.  I can always rejoice in my salvation.  I can always rejoice in my forgiven and forgotten sins.  I can always rejoice in all that God has given me.  Sometimes I can even rejoice in the knowledge that God is going to work this trial out for my good and his glory.  But, if I can't get there right then, I will still rejoice.  I resolve to rejoice.  

But, I will also feel the pain of the struggle.  I'm certain Jesus felt the pain of his struggle and the joy set before him was the joy he has seated at the right hand of God, but I'm certain he still felt every single sting of the whip, every single blow to his body, every single strike of that hammer and every single inch of those nails piercing his body.  Will I then put myself above Christ and say I should not feel the pain?  I'd rather not feel the pain, but through the pain there is redemption.  Through the pain there is further resolve.  Through the pain I persevere.  I show God that I mean business and that I am truly willing to follow him and take up my cross daily when I feel the pain.  Without the pain of Jesus, we have no redemption.  

I am trusting that through my pain, others will find salvation and redemption, because somehow through my pain I will point the way to Jesus, and in this, yes, my friend, I rejoice and I count it all joy.  All of it, every single bit of it, every last ounce of pain and sorrow.  And remember, this is not about having a martyr-like attitude, it's all about resolve, patience, perseverance.  

I resolve this, I resolve to rejoice, every day, every minute, through every circumstance, through every trial and tribulation, and if God in his mercy removes the pain and pours out joy, then I will receive it and I will rejoice all the more.  But if God does not remove the trials, does not remove the pain, still I will rejoice, for this is my resolve, for my God is good to me, again, and again, and again and again.  He is the lifter of my head and this is the day the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and if I'm blessed to wake to another day tomorrow, yet again and still I will rejoice.  This is my resolve.  This is my God.  He will enable me.  He always does.

No comments: