I'm not sure what's going on in my life sometimes. For the last month and a half, it has felt like I'm just going through life, trying to keep afloat, and just when I think I can't keep going, and I don't want to keep trying, my pleas to God become more desperate and at the perfect time, someone or something comes into my life that allows me to keep persevering. That goes along well with the beginning of James' letter.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 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. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:2-8)
The question that this raises, in regards to joy, is this: We have joy through trials because we know our reward is greater at the end, which enables us to keep our faith which enables us to keep calling on God as we're called to do. But as those trials are going on, what is the appropriate response? How much mourning, grieving, complaining, should Christians allow ourselves when we face these trials?
Sometimes, there seems to be pressure from other Christians to have faith that is so strong, that nothing shakes you. “Oh, you have cancer? Well rejoice in the Lord always!” “You lost your job and you're running out of money? Well don't be anxious about anything, but through prayer and petition, present your requests to God!” My personal favorites are the ones that aren't even from the Bible: “When God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it!”
I'm not doubting the validity of any of these sayings, nor am I trying to mock them or the people who say them. I feel that this is more of a defense mechanism because we are trying to become more faithful Christians, and we feel if we show weakness or weariness in our situations, we appear to have no faith. In short, we're trying to become automatons.
And it's something that is happening all over Christianity. We tend to say, “Well, you should go to my type of church where we sing my kind of songs and you should react to everything just like I do.” So when we grieve and mourn, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the first thing I hear is, “Well you should grieve like me,” or even worse, “Well that's nothing compared to what I went through, and look where I am now!” But this attitude is hindering joy in the Lord!
As you go throughout your week, you may come across hurting people, or you, yourself, may be hurting. Here are some things that have helped me work on my joy in the past few weeks.
- We are each Created by a loving God and have the freedom to hurt, and to question what God is doing in our lives. We're told to: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22)
- We should never feel that we need to go through trials alone: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
- Do not substitute worldly pleasure for Godly joy. Worldly joy is only temporary: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
- Keep faith... God knows trials too: “Therefore, 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. Let 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.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
- God IS listening: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (John 5:14-15)
- God blesses us through trials, and rewards us after them: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
So when you face trials in your life, continue to have joy, because God has already provided for your final reward. But don't try to be Superman. Cry, wail, question, test do all of that... but surround yourself with Christian friends who will help you fix your eyes on Jesus, and make sure that through everything you're seeking His will. No it isn't easy, yes, it's counter-intuitive to our fallen human condition, and it certainly takes practice, but remember the verses from my blog post a few weeks ago: “...The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)