True Joy

joy, perseverance, steadfastness, suffering

Joy can mean happy, but not necessarily.  Maybe for the first time, I’m beginning to see that joy is not really based on circumstances.  Sure, I’ve heard that about 100 times. Happiness is a choice; Attitude is everything, so choose a good one; blah, blah, blah. It’s just been in the past couple weeks that I am really being to understand this a little. Things can be tough, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t experience joy. So does joy mean that we put on our fake smile and try to be charming in social settings so that everyone thinks we’re happy?  Or do we say, “Oh, yes, it’s been hard, but God is good.”? If you’ve seen me during a rough patch, I’ve probably given you both responses, but I’m learning that there’s a whole lot more to joy than that.

Look at what Jesus’ brother James says about it: Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. This week I was really curious about this because frankly, I was irritated. What if I don’t want steadfastness? Or trials? When my kid is hurting and family members are physically suffering, or if we are going through really hard stuff, I should count it all joy? James says emphatically, “Yes”. Okay, when I thought about James’ perspective, it makes it a little easier to swallow. He was talking to the Jewish people who were believers of Jesus Christ, scattered among non-believing people, and they were being persecuted for their faith. I know some people don’t like me and relationships can be messy, but it’s quite a different perspective to understand that James penned these words to people who were really experiencing trials beyond what my suburban mind can fathom.

So James is coming at us with this outlook: You’re scattered from your home with people who don’t understand or think like you.  Some of them want to kill you because they don’t like that. But when you are being tested or in a trial, count it all joy.  That means think about it as joy, decide to find something to rejoice about. So I’m getting the idea here from James that joy doesn’t just mean that I’m a really smiley person with a great laugh, no matter how tough life is. He might be saying, Yes, you are facing persecution and loneliness and maybe death. Decide to find joy in it. Almost forgot!  Count it all joy. Because you know that the testing of your faith develops steadfastness.  I’m going to be really honest and tell you that I haven’t given much thought to developing perseverance before.  It sounds pretty good, but I wouldn’t necessarily want it as a trade-off for really hard times.

So I think the take away for me is this: I can be really mad and discouraged in trials of various kinds. I can kick and scream and question God about if He loves me, how could he not get me out of this. I can get downcast or depressed or just complain a lot. (I’ve done all of the above) But it seems a lot more beneficial to practice this upside down idea from James.  Maybe that’s what true joy is.  Deciding to choose joy in tough circumstances. Asking God to teach me through them and develop perseverance, character, and steadfastness in me through the trial.  Otherwise it would just end up being a rough time. I’d rather it be training ground for developing qualities in me that I didn’t know I needed, but boy do I need them!

True Joy: The world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away.

My comfort or God’s glory

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It turns out that a lot of the time that I’m praying, it’s because I desperately want my comfortable, safe, little life. I had been dealing with some severe back pain and went to a prayer and healing meeting at our church. These are pretty rare, but I went. I was desperate and wanted relief and to have the back pain gone. At times it was incapacitating and I believe that Jesus is still a Healer. However, I wasn’t prepared for what happened. The small group that prayed with me was our youth pastor, Patrick, me, and my husband. It was unique because Patrick has the same exact injury that I was dealing with, so I thought: Yeah! He will really know how to pray for me!

I was shocked and disappointed when he prayed out loud, “God, we are asking for Your glory, for you to make Yourself famous, more than Christine’s comfort.”  I was indignant. In my heart, not out loud. I was appalled that he didn’t just outright ask God to heal me.  After all, that’s why I came! Then I had to ask myself, which one do I want more, my comfort, or God’s glory.  Thankfully, the two can coexist. But at that moment, I had to really look at my heart and make a choice. Through clenched teeth (not really, but I did have to say it slowly and deliberately) I was able to give up my agenda of telling God what I wanted Him to do and how I wanted Him to perform, and seek whatever good He might want to bring if I was not healed.  By the way, I didn’t experience immediate healing, but the back pain has gotten progressively better over the past several months.

Is God still a miracle worker? Yes. I’ve been dealing with this question all week because one of our kids has been in severe pain with an injury.  Wow, that’s a hard prayer, to ask God for His glory more than our comfort.  I’m not trying to be a martyr, but I do recognize that while I may think the best thing is for God to give the pain a holy zap, He knows what is really best.  I don’t.

My friend emailed this verse as an encouragement.  It’s written by the apostle Paul as he’s talking about a physical ailment that he’s suffering with:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10