Monday, August 4, 2014

Standing When You Don’t Understand (James 1:2-4)

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, ESV)

Yesterday was a very difficult day. Have you ever had one of them? What a silly question! We all have difficult days when things don’t go as we expected, and we all respond to them a bit differently. Some of us may not miss a step most of the time, and move right on being fully assured of God’s hand on you and His direction of your life regardless of our expectations of outcomes. Having this kind of assurance has everything to do with our confidence in God and His proven character. It has to do with our having grown in faith as we have seen Him faithful. James wrote that we are to count (or actively take captive the thought and purposely attribute) it all joy when we encounter various trials… (James 1:2). It is not a matter of ‘if’ we encounter trials or ‘if’ maybe some trial may come here and there in the midst of our bed of roses. But it is actively considering it joy, meaning that we make a purposeful choice to think in a way contrary to our natural or flesh response, when problems come.

In Philippians 4:8-9 we read, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (ESV) Here we find some insight into actively looking for the things of joy in trials. It is the process of getting our perspective right, which is a God-centered one. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 we read in response to our being given victory over sin and granted new life in our resurrected Lord, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (ESV) Ultimately the only real way to find peace and joy in trials is to rest in our hope in our God who does not go on vacation, take a break, or turn His attention from us. He fully encloses us, and He will bring to pass those things which He started in us and which He fully intends. Luck and chance are not in His vocabulary—whether good or bad as we might term them.

When we are young in the faith we might be more easily shaken, but as we grow in knowing God and His faithfulness through trials we are strengthened such that we can trust Him through more. But as we also know, sometimes these later trials are even more intense than some of the earlier ones as we encounter some of the more difficult situations of life. In them we are also encouraged by knowing that having gone through the trials of earlier days that He has prepared for these trials of later days with all of them pointing to our maturity in Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that in all of these trials which we all encounter, that it is not the size of the trial that matters but the unending and unlimited faithfulness of our God who makes us to come to the other side victoriously.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We all need these reminders, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves over and over and over again when the situation seems really intense. God is faithful. He will not leave me or forsake me. He will limit the trial to that which He also gives me the ability to endure.

Today I am taking a break from looking at the gospel of John because yesterday for me and my family we began a new season of trial in which I (personally) am struggling greatly. It is so easy sometimes to want to give up, but it is so critical that we don’t. In these times it is even more critical that we remember and turn to our God who does not give up on us and who gives us a hope such that we can indeed be steadfast and immovable. It is also during these times that we can find biblical encouragement in those around us who point us to the truths of our God which we know but maybe emotionally are struggling to focus on.

Today I went to lunch with Robin (my wife, best friend, and spiritual partner), and she shared some verses and thoughts which God had impressed upon her this morning. As I was listening I was thinking that she really should be writing my post for today, and maybe she will. If she does, I will gladly post what she writes as well. But one of the verses she reminded me of spoke to my need to guard my emotions. She spoke about 1 Peter 5:8 which reads, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (ESV) This verse speaks to our need to guard our emotions, being careful about the things that we allow ourselves to think about, because we truly do have an enemy who is an extreme opportunist. Satan or the devil would love nothing more than to sideline us in our walk with God, to shake our confidence in Him, and to make us useless for service. He knows he cannot have a forever victory in this, but he sure makes every effort to affect our positive benefit and joy in the here and now. If he can thwart God’s purpose in our lives, then he will make every effort to do so.

As I listened to her I thought of another passage in the Bible which spoke to the same issue and which had an extremely negative outcome. Adam and Eve first had two sons that we read of. One of them was Cain and the other Abel. In the beginning of Genesis chapter 4 we read that these two brothers brought offerings to God. Cain simply gave, but Abel gave of the first portion—the very best. The Bible told us that God had regard for Abel’s offering, but He had no regard for that of Cain. At this Cain became upset and downcast. The ESV translation puts it, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:5). We continue to read that God spoke to Cain and asked him why he was so angry and his face downfallen? Not waiting for an answer, as God already knew what was going on, God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7, ESV)

Sin and the devil—both are destructive in our lives. One comes from within us and the other works it’s hardest to influence us, but each push us to take our eyes off of God leading to calamity of one form or another. For Cain we know that the destructive outcome went far beyond him going out into the field and killing his own brother. Wallowing in self-pity and reacting in any way apart from looking at God has negative outcomes. Most of the time for most of us we quickly are reminded to turn our eyes back to God or are restrained in some way by His Spirit speaking to our hearts. For this we can be extremely thankful that our God is faithful no matter how dark things might seem. He is the light to our paths and the direction setter of our feet. He is the restorer of our hope knowing that our hope lies in the unshakable work of His Son on the cross and that our future is unchangeably settled in eternity.

So, as I respond to a difficult situation I am reminded by the word of God stored in my heart, the Spirit of God present in me, the faithfulness of God shown to me, and the people of God surrounding me that He is faithful. To every hard situation of life there is always the powerful response “BUT GOD!”

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