To Count It All Joy is a Real Life-Change

TRUST

I’m so thankful to have coasted through life without a major illness, broken bones or high blood pressure, or anything else. I’m never ill and instead of medications in the medicine cabinet there are vitamin supplements. I love to run and work out at the gym but now all of that has come to a screeching halt. I’ve not been able to pick up a thin brush to watercolor paint, nor able to sit at my desk in front of my computer because of excruciating nerve pain. It has not been easy to deal with this trial.

I understand that no one is exempt from difficulties and trials. The business you work for is downsized and suddenly you find yourself facing the trial of how to provide for your family when you are unemployed. We hope our children are given a pass from hardships, but they are not exempt from a serious illness or being bullied by a cruel kid at school. Every individual and family will have their share of trouble and stormy seasons to plod through.

Trials should be expected. But you don’t know where your heart will go until you’ve been hurled into a specific trial that will cause a life-change. This life-change can be one of bitterness and constant complaining or it can be a life-change of joy and perseverance that keeps you in the boat, steadily rowing against the headwind, perhaps exhausted but not without hope. (Mark 6:45-52) There are moments when we’re crying out, “Where is the grace of God?” and we’re getting it. But it’s not the grace of relief, and it’s not the grace of release. Largely, those are to come. We get them in pieces, but largely they’re to come, because what we need right now is the grace of refinement. We better become committed to teach, comfort, preach, and encourage one another. [1]

I’ve been close to losing hope and have the weight of depression over this unfortunate situation. I once wrote a post about being a “Mat Carrier”…the service of intercessory prayers, carrying my friends to Jesus when they can’t walk to him on their own. (You know the story in the bible of a lame man being carried on his mat by four good friends so that he could meet Jesus and be healed.) In my state of despair and weariness, I realized that I am like that lame man in need of help from my family and friends to carry me to God through prayer.

The faithful and consistent prayers of family and friends on my behalf has helped renew my strength to persevere, to be hopeful, to experience more grace from God to stay the course…to be steadfast with rowing, making headway painfully for the wind is against me. (Mark 6:45-52)

I would like to say that I’m a brave person, able to face any challenge, but I’m actually afraid to face the unknown. I’m frequently asked, “How are you doing?”  So, instead of saying that I feel awful, I answer with a brave response which I believe they would rather hear. I think being afraid and wanting to be brave all in the same heart-beat is quite normal. Being angry or sad and asking God, “Where is the grace?” is quite normal. “If you have a body, you are entitled to the full range of feelings. It comes with the package.” (Anne Lamott, Grace (eventually): Thoughts on Faith)

What isn’t normal for me (or perhaps for anyone) is to have my first response to a trial as the apostle James exhorts us to do in James 1:2: …”to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.” Contrary to the way many believers sometimes think and act, Christian joy does not mean that we ignore or deny the pain of suffering and grief. Nevertheless, suffering and grief can lead to joy, for trouble provides an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ and to learn how to walk more intimately with Him. [2]

And there’s the rub! Suffering and grief can lead to joy…there is an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ and to learn how to walk more intimately with Him. I must make the choice to pray to God for more grace to be able to count it all joy. My life-change is becoming a deeper story of knowing Jesus more intimately and holding on tight to the gospel of grace.

Sure, I’m asking God, “Why now?” and “How long will this continue?”  I don’t know the answers to those questions  but I do know that the key to rejoicing in suffering is to trust that God is good and is sovereign. I am asking God for a life-change of deeper faith, a faith that is not just something I do with my brain (head knowledge) but the way that I live my life. [1] I am not being forsaken. I am not being forgotten. I am being refined. I am loved.

A memory I have from my childhood home is seeing the phrase, “Count it all joy” written on index cards and taped to the fridge, or in the corner of a bathroom mirror or on the dashboard in our car. My mom would also write those words in perfect calligraphy, framed and displayed on our family room wall. My mom suffered through chronic pain and illness for most of her life. Those four words, count it all joy, reminded her that God is good and she will lack nothing. I once read that joy is the best makeup [3] and mom wore it well. Truly, I am depending on more grace from God to strengthen my faith before I can even begin to smear on joy.

The joy is not in the trial but in the work of the gospel transforming and changing my heart. God is giving me more grace, albeit an uncomfortable grace. I visualize myself in that row-boat with Jesus’ disciples, fighting the headwind and struggling to row through the storm.  And there Jesus is, walking on the water towards me.  “I AM” is here! The One on whom all the covenant promises rest. The One who’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. The One who created the world by spoken word. The One who holds it together by his power. The One who is sovereign over every experience I will ever be in. The “I Am” has invaded my life by his grace. [1] This testing of my faith will produce steadfastness and I will lack nothing.

Throughout life, our faith must grow. We start with a small faith, but as we live the Christian life our faith becomes stronger, enabling us to trust God more and more. As the disciples once did, so too must we ask God to increase our faith (Luke 17:5). This He will do by bringing us through various trials so that our faith will produce the steadfastness of perseverance, guaranteeing that our sanctification will be complete. [5]

I’ve been writing this blog post for a few weeks, already, taking a few quick moments here and there to type a few lines or to share a few quotes from authors and pastors that communicate my thoughts precisely. This trial is not over and is bound to change in time, in some way. What will never change, however, is God’s gift of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. His grace is filling and satisfying my faith. God’s grace is enabling me to count it all joy. That’s a real life-change!

God will take you where you haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. ~Paul David Tripp
Count it all joy…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)

Footnotes

 [1] The Difference between Amazement and Faith |Faith is not just something you do with your brain; faith is the way that you live your life. | Paul David Tripp. [2] Counting It All Joy | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.  [3] Anne Lamott  [4] Anne Lamott |Grace (eventually): Thoughts on Faith. [5] Trials of Various Kinds | R.C. Sproul

A Stumble and a Bumble

Stumble and Bumble
She pulls open the bottom drawer of the dresser and searches for the “colorful bathing suit” to put on. The black and white swim suit will not do. It must be the colorful one. “Let’s go to the pool, Gigi!” Already at three years of age, she talks about being on a swim team one day.

Out the door she bounds…walking too fast, slightly unsteady on the top step. Down she goes! Thankfully there are only two wooden steps to stumble and bumble over, plus there was a thick carpet remnant on the concrete floor of the garage, a cushion for her forehead and nose. After a good cry, lots of hugs and comforting, I prayed with her and thanked God that she wasn’t hurt badly and especially for that cushion of carpet. While driving to the pool,  she said, “Gigi, I did a stumble and a bumble but I’m okay.”

Don’t we all stumble and bumble! And we all want to be okay.  We stumble with anger, anxiety, envy, resentment, self-pity, disgust, or frustration. We bumble through discouragement, lust, irritability, impatience, hard-heartedness, brusqueness, unkindness, or withdrawnness. [1] We hope for a cushion of carpet to break our fall.

And you know…we can be more than, “Okay.”

This is what we must do. We must read and know and think and believe that it is trusting in the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to cover the stumbling and conquer the bumbling. This is the only way we will be more than okay.

I read the book of Jude today. It’s not long…just 25 verses. Here is verse 24:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.

How awesome is that?  One day I will stop stumbling and bumbling…but not today. John Piper is wise when he wrote, “Whether you are in your twenties or sixties, you probably have some long-standing heart-responses you don’t like. These are like reflexes. You don’t choose them. They spring up unintentionally from your heart, usually in response to the people around you. When any one of these attitudes springs up unbidden, you hate it. You have fought it for years with gospel-faithfulness, trusting in the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to cover it and conquer it. Still it returns. You weep over it, and ask your closest friends to pray for you. There is a short season of reprieve. And there it is again stamping you. Telling you: This is who you are. You say no. In Christ, this is not who I am. His stamp is on my life. True. But O you would be done with this! O to be new, through and through!” [2]

So the key is not to give up. I’m sure God has reasons for why he allows us to fight so long, but he never intends us to give up on Scripture. [1]  Don’t give up when you stumble and bumble.

God’s designs are to bring a surprising verse into your heart in a surprising moment in a surprising situation and do a surprising work of transformation. [2]

Expect a “cushion of carpet!” God’s word is there to break your fall.

Footnotes

[1] See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 │ [2] Is There a Key to Godliness? by John Piper