Facing Trials With Joy

 

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“Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).

“God – I don’t understand this trial. Why are you making me go through this?” Ever said that before? So have I, and so have believers through the ages. And we will again and again because life on this rock is hard sometimes.  James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for joy.  Excuse me?   I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But we can have joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a plan for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse and gives us one reason for rejoicing in the face of trials: “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercises.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that God is faithful if you never have opportunity to trust Him?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity. 

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things occurred to position him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come.   Through recent trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you wisdom to come along side someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope. 

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother used to say, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training.  God is being a good Father to you (Hebrews 12:5-10)

Most importantly, trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He declared that “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God is on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and I to draw closer to God, to walk in faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

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Advent Day 21 – What’s on Your Christmas List?

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?J) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in Immanuel – the God who is with us.  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck,’” but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact, this same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift of all and your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this gift isn’t jewelry, toys, or clothes wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  It is the peace, joy, hope, and love of God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Advent Day 13 – Blue Christmas

“And He will be called Wonderful Counselor . . .” (Isaiah 9:6)

It is well known that Christmas, the most joyful season of the year, is also the most prone to bring on bouts of depression.  When your family Christmas doesn’t measure up to the Norman Rockwell standard or the Hallmark ideal . . .  When the truck repairs take all your Christmas money . . . When your company skips the Christmas bonus and gives you the boot instead . . .  When crazy relatives show their worst side . . . When you are just tired of the cultural “Happy Holidays!” . . .  Well I think you get the picture.  Depression seems worse this time of year because you know you’re supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy but the reality is you’re having a “blue Christmas.”

My friend, you need a counselor – but not just any counselor – you need the Wonderful Counselor.  You need the Counselor who knows you inside and out, who knows your past, your present, and your future.  You need the Counselor who has perfect insight into your state of mind and heart and knows exactly what will bring you peace and joy.  You need Jesus.

He is the Wonderful Counselor because He has perfect wisdom.  His Word is full of righteousness with not even a hint of error.  His counsel is perfect – He will never steer you in the wrong way.  His ways and words are true as He leads you through the darkness and into his marvelous light.  His counsel is without cost – in fact – He Himself has already paid the full price for you with His own life.

Beloved, if your heart is not ringing with joy this Christmas, may I suggest you get into counseling with Jesus?  His office never closes and He is never too busy to meet with you.  Your Wonderful Counselor is only a whispered prayer away.

Read Isaiah 9:1-7

Advent Day 9 – Christmas Joy

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

There is no better combination than children and Christmas.  Their sweet smiles, joyous laughter and excitement are contagious.  A child’s heart is wide open, and his wonder and delight will warm even the coldest Scrooge’s heart.  Children have an enormous capacity for joy, a trait that we tend to lose as we “mature” into adults.  When my son was small, and he would get excited, he would do what I called his “seal clap of joy,” clapping his little hands together in fast repetitions.  It always made me laugh, not just his clapping, but the excitement and delight that bubbled out of him.

Unlike our “dignified” western persona, in the middle-eastern world, emotions were deeply felt and fully expressed.  Grief was given full breadth as grown men and women wailed loudly, beat their breasts and mourned publicly.  Likewise joy was celebrated with loud songs and shouts of delight – even dancing in the streets as neighbors joined in the merriment.  The Bible gives many accounts of great emotional impact – Job in his mourning, David celebrating the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  In fact, there is still great emotional expression in those cultures today.

So when the angels announced the “good news of great joy” we can envision the shepherds dancing by the fire, singing and laughing with delight, then rushing off to see this Baby “wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  This was cause for celebration – the Lord had fulfilled His promise to Israel!

You and I have reason to rejoice and celebrate too, because more than just His promise to one nation, the Lord had fulfilled His promise to all mankind.  Way back in the book of Genesis, after the first humans had fallen to Satan’s ploy, God promised to send a Rescuer who would crush the head of our enemy (Genesis 3:15) and redeem men from captivity to sin and death.  This child in the manger was the fulfillment of that promise.  He is the reason we sing “Joy to the World.”  He is the reason we celebrate – not because of trees and lights and presents – but because of the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Let this Christmas bring a childlike joy to your heart – a joy that shows on your face and spreads out all around.  Dance, sing, jump, rejoice – let it fill you to the brim and overflow onto everyone around you. There will always be people who don’t appreciate your enthusiasm – there will always be Scrooges and Grinches who will “bah humbug” over your delight.  Be joyful anyway – maybe it will bring a smile to their face as well.

Share some Christmas joy this season, it’s a gift you can give to others that always gives back to you.

Read 2 Samuel 6:12-15

Advent Day 7 – JOY to the World!

“And the angel said unto the, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

This time of year, we greet one another with a joyful “Merry Christmas!”  We sing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  We delight to see joy on our children’s faces as they take in the sights and sounds all around them.  There are joyous shouts as gifts are unwrapped around the tree.  Christmas is truly a time for joy.

But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and festive activities at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy.  This baby was the fulfillment of a promise from God that the Jews had clung to for centuries.  The LORD had said He would send them a King – the Messiah – who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews lived for hundreds of years under the oppression of enemy nations; the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans.  Their beloved Jerusalem had been taken hostage by this sometimes cruel and evil nations, Rome being the worst.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the Roman rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon.

But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness.  Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps you and me in bondage today.   The Messiah of God came, not to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  Jesus came as an infant, not to give us a reason for a party, but to bring freedom from the curse of sin.  And that is the true JOY of Christmas.  The baby Jesus in the manger is the Savior Jesus on the Cross, and the Risen Jesus who has “proclaimed freedom for the prisoners, release for the oppressed” and the JOY of “the Lord’s favor.”

Don’t let your Christmas JOY stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!

Read: Psalm 72

What Do You Want for Christmas?

165043-849x565-christmas-giftsWhat Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? A good book? Something for your house?  Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the joyless David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in the presence of God.  If you long for hope hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck” (anybody remember that?), but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact this same verse fills your request for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you, like me just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He who is the greatest Gift of all is ready to give you the gift you most desire.

Advent 2015 – Day 21 – Glorious Joy!

 adventcandlesweek3“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even thought you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8)

Faith and joy are links in a golden chain that binds us to Jesus.  Because we believe, we have joy.  Because we have joy, we believe.   Peter tells us that our belief is rewarded with “an inexpressible and glorious joy.”  That means we have a joy that cannot be described with mere human words.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t express it.  It is evident in our words and attitudes, and especially in our interactions with others.  It is joy spoken without words.  But it gets even better . . .

Peter also describes it as a “glorious joy.”  The Greek word for glory is doxa, and it describes the awesome light that radiates from God’s presence.  The word joy comes from the root word chara which speaks of greeting someone with delight.   Now, go with me to one of the Messianic verses from the Old Testament: Isaiah 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Jesus is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).  His is a light that darkness cannot overcome (v. 5).  Oh, this is so incredible!  Because of the faith we have in Jesus, we now bring the light—the glorious light—of Christ into this dark world!  We greet the world with joy and shine the light of the glory of the Son of God that cannot be overcome!  You and I are ambassadors of light and joy!

And all we have to do is believe.

Advent 2015 – Day 20 – Joy, Joy Joy!

adventcandlesweek3“I have told you this so that my joy may be in your and that your joy may be complete” John 15:11

There was a little chorus I remember singing when I was a child,

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy,

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart,

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy,

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart to stay.[1]

Did you just sing that in your head? 🙂

Isn’t it amazing how those simple songs can have such powerful truth to them?   This little chorus beautifully expresses our key verse.  The joy that Jesus promised is the joy that lives “down in my heart to stay.”  It is an unshakable, unbreakable, immovable joy.

Joy is different from happiness.  Happiness is often conditional.  I am happy that my football team won the game.  I am happy because I found the perfect shoes for my new dress.  I am happy because my son offered to clean up the kitchen tonight.  But what happens to that happiness when the team loses the next week, a heel breaks on my perfect shoes and I wake up to a messy kitchen after my son’s midnight refrigerator raid?  Happiness depends on all the right things falling into place.

The joy of the Lord, on the other hand, is constant and consistent, because it is based on the character and the faithfulness of God.  It is a steady, unwavering, assurance that trusts in the God of creation who has promised us his constant and consistent love.  Joy that comes from Jesus sits at the beside and holds the hand of your loved one as they slip away.  It rocks your child to sleep night after night in the pediatric cancer ward.  It walks with you into the prison to visit your son every Sunday afternoon.  It faces the hard things of life with hope and peace because it is joy with “staying power”.

Do you have this joy?  Perhaps the better question is: do you have Jesus?  If not, I invite you today to find joy in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This world may give you happiness in the moment, but only Jesus offers “Joy unspeakable and full of glory”.[2]

[1] George Willis Cooke (23 April 1848 – 30 April 1923).

[2] Barney E Warren (20 February 1867 – 21 April 1951).

Advent 2015 – Day 19 – My Testimony – From Darkness to Joy

adventcandlesweek3“You turned my wailing to dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent” Psalm 30:11-12

Painters often use dark colors to emphasis lighter tones in a scene, allowing the contrast to draw our eye to the most important part of the painting.  A writer uses crisis and conflict to build tension in a story; when the resolution comes the reader experiences joy and relief.  At times our heavenly Father uses dark tones as He paints the portrait of our lives.  This is my story.  This is how God took me from wailing to dancing and from sackcloth to joy.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went and I rode them out like waves at the beach.  But when a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet, there was no riding it out; this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me.  Almost daily, I battled thoughts of ending my life to stop the mental torment.  There was nothing I could do to help myself. There was no shaking it off and no bootstraps to pull myself up by—and even if there were, I didn’t have the strength to grab hold of them.

So how did I go from hopelessness to standing here with the sun shining on my face; to once again pursue my dreams and find joy in my life?  Only God.  “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2).  I was indeed in a deep and horrible pit, but the Lord rescued me.  He spoke tenderly to my heart from His Word. He listened as I poured out all my emotions to Him. Often I simply sat quietly in His presence, His love and compassion enveloping me.  Slowly but surely, light began to dawn in the darkness and joy took root in my heart like a tiny seed stretching itself toward the sun.

Why am I letting you see this side of my life?  Because someone is struggling today just as I struggled then.  Someone is in a deep, dark pit of despair, on the verge of giving up.  I want you to know beloved, there is hope and joy for you—because God is for you.  He rescued me and He is able and willing to rescue you, because He loves you.    My prayer today is that you will receive God’s healing love and experience His joy this Christmas.  Please cry out to God – right now – and receive His love.  I am living proof that God can turn your darkness in to joy.

Advent 2015 – Day 18 – The Secret to Finding Joy

adventcandlesweek3“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”  Matthew 22:37-39

What is the secret to finding joy?  The answer is in the word itself.

JJesus

OOthers

YYourself

It is the perfect accompaniment to Matthew 22:37-39 and it is the truest path to real joy.

To love God is the highest joy we can have.  To love Him with all your heart and soul and mind is to love Him with your entire being.  The heart—kardia—is the seat of emotional thinking, it is the place from which our truest self emanates.  When the Bible expresses the character of a person it describes the condition of his heart: “His heart was righteous; His heart was evil.”  The mind—duaboia—is the seat of conscious thinking, where we process information, establish our understanding, and, most telling of all—make choices.  When we say “My heart is set on” a certain thing, what we are really saying is “I’ve made a choice and directed my heart toward this thing.”  The mind and heart are inter-connected.  When we talk about our soul—our psyche—we are speaking of the part of us that is immaterial and eternal – the part that God placed in us when He made us in His image.  Interestingly, the root word for soul is psycho, which means to grow cold.  A healthy psyche is a soul that burns with a passionate love for God.

As we love God in this all-consuming way, we cannot help but love others.  Such love overflows from our heart and touches others around us, our families, coworkers, friends, even people you don’t even know can be touched by the love that springs from a heart in love with God.  You won’t have to force yourself to love them, it is a natural response when God is the greatest love of your life.

The Lord doesn’t want you to neglect love for yourself.  God loves you, that’s reason enough to love and care for yourself.  Be kind to the one that Jesus loves.  Be kind to you.

Joy is not hard to find, it is as simple as loving—Jesus—Others—and Yourself.