blogs about awakening
How about this for a counter-intuitive perspective: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Truth be told, for a long time I considered this a simply an overly optimistic, pat you on the back, pretend there’s really no problem, “shape up and quit complaining” sort of statement from the Apostle. But no, it’s a real command, a call to have joy in the midst of painful circumstances. Talk about counter-intuitive!
Folks, isn’t it tempting, when we are in pain, to begin to feel sorry for ourselves? “Lord, I have been obeying you and following you and praying my heart out, and You give me this problem! Why, Lord? It’s not fair! I deserve better!” Trust me, I’ve been there many more times than I am willing to admit.
So how can we have joy in the midst of painful trials? Looking at some parallel texts helps provide the answer. In Romans 5:2-5, Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
And look at Philippians 3:10-11, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
We could find many other passages like these that encourage us to persevere in our suffering just like Christ did “who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross . . .” (Hebrews 12:2)
So, is it just to grit our teeth and hang on in our misery? No, we are to have “joy” and “rejoice” in our pain. How is that possible?
Well, it is both impossible and possible at the same time! On one hand, in my flesh, I cannot do it. But in my new nature through the Holy Spirit’s power, I can! Here are the steps I seek to take to turn from self-pity to joy and rejoicing:
1. I say “thank you” to God for the trial. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice ALWAYS, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances.” It doesn’t say, “Feel thankful.” Feelings will come later as we choose to obey. Why can we say thanks in ALL circumstances? Because Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible. All things WILL work together for good to them who love God and are called according to His purposes. And a big part of that good is that our loving Heavenly Father is using pain in our lives to make us more like Him. You know what the athletes say, “No pain, no gain!” If it’s true in sports, it’s totally true in our spiritual lives. I have a lot of pride, self-confidence, selfishness etc. that God needs to burn out of me in love. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
2. I put on the whole armor of God to fight against my real enemy Satan. I especially need that shield of faith to quench his fiery darts that he wants to come to my heart, especially that dart of discouragement. I meditate on scripture that offers encouragement to me. One that often helps me is His promise never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5) I also need to pray with my mind and with my spirit. And encourage others to pray for me as well. It’s always amazing to me how much better things go when I am bathed in prayer. What a powerhouse it is!
3. I find the grace to endure the trial today, and choosing not to worry about tomorrow. I keep my eyes on Him who went through much worse of a trial out of love to purchase us with His blood from Satan’s dominion. Day by day, I make it and, in the words of C.S. Lewis, am often “surprised by joy” as I trust Him and feel His manifest presence comforting, leading, guiding and loving me.
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see how much of the Christian life goes totally against my natural instincts. Someone once told me: “If you want to figure out what God’s will is, think of what comes natural. Then think of the opposite of what comes natural. Then see if the Bible doesn’t suggest the opposite of natural is in fact God’s way.”
Let me give you just a few examples of where this is true:
--“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) (Rather than taking revenge or harboring bitterness.)
--“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) (Rather than hording and not being willing to give even sacrificially if He so leads.)
--“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
Allow me to comment in greater depth on this last passage.
First let me ask this: Do you want to follow Jesus or just admire Him from a distance? Because if you truly want to be a follower of Jesus, He asks us to do some truly amazing things here.
“Deny” in the Greek means that we really reject ourselves! And you know the end of the road for the person who takes up a cross: death by torture!
But the next verse (24) is even more amazing: in the first phrase we have the words “save” and “lose”; likewise we have those identical words in the second phrase, but in reverse order: “lose” and “save.” “Save” is from the Greek “sozo” which is the much-loved word for someone being saved from danger or destruction, but also saved from hell.
We see sozo a lot in Scripture, including in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We ALL want to be saved, right? But Jesus is telling us that if our primary goal in life is to be saved or safe, we actually are going to “lose” our life. What does the word “lose” mean in the original? It is the Greek word “apolymi” which means to destroy or kill! So if our primary goal is to be saved, the opposite is going to happen. It likely also includes the person who thinks they can get to heaven on their own without God’s help: they will end up in eternal death.
But here is the clincher: Jesus goes onto say that if we lose (that means destroy or kill!) our lives for Jesus, we will end up saving our lives eternally. Does that hit you like it hits me? Jesus doesn’t want us to just dip our toes in the water, or “sprinkle a little Jesus” on our lives. He wants us to dive in completely without holding back or having any reservations!
We need to choose daily to let Him protect us. We must be totally willing to die today—even physically—if that would be His sovereign will, while it brings glory to Him and helps build His eternal Kingdom.