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As the Sparks Fly Upward . . .

30 Apr

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Tonight, I begin teaching the book of James in a men’s bible study.  I have been giving verses 2-3 a lot of thought.  James begins verse 2 with a command: Count it all joy.  This may seem a bit strange at first.  Strange to be commanded to be joyous.  We would think joy would be natural for us to experience and something in which we would delight and relish; not something we would be commanded to have.  Commanding a teenager to tidy up after themselves, sure.  Commanding an inferior to do some unpleasant chore, okay.  Commanding a defiant witness to answer questions, yes.  But commanded to have joy?  

The word count in the Greek means to consider, to deem, to think.  It’s as if James is saying, When such and such happens, think of it as completely joyous.  But why would he command us to be joyful?  Well, we can all imagine situations where joy would be natural and the spontaneous emotion we would feel.  The birth of a child.  A large tax refund from the government!  The salvation of a loved one.  A raise at work.  Winning the lottery!  

But, James is speaking of these “normal” situations.  James is commanding us to have joy when we go through trials and hardships.  Is joy natural doing such times?  Probably not.  Or, should I say, absolutely not.  

Trials are inevitable in life, whether one is a believer or not.  Believers though are called to see a higher purpose in their sufferings.  A purpose that brings about a resolution of faith.  A determined faith of a mature, well-developed follower of Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself taught us that we should expect troubles in this life (cf. Jn. 16.33).  The examples are endless from scripture of godly men and women who suffered afflictions and pain and loss.  

Of course, one seems to stand hand and shoulders above the rest in this department:  Job.  Job said, Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job 14.1)  Eliphaz, the ever helpful friend of Job, reminds Job, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.  (Job 5.7)  

Trouble is, whether we like it or not, part and parcel of this thing we call life.  And we, we as believers, we as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, are called to count them all joy.  

This is hard.  I don’t have my mind around it fully yet.  How could one count it joyous when they watch their wife beaten and raped for her testimony?  How can one rejoice when house and home and property are stolen and burned to the ground, simply because they name Christ as Lord?  How can one be joyful when she finds out her spot on the xray is stage 4?  How could a parent be extremely happy when he finds out his daughter has just been killed in an automobile accident?

I don’t know.  

I heard a former professor of mine say he had a friend that lost his wife tragically and that this friend took comfort in the thought that God was behind her death.  In fact, he had commented if he did not believe that, he would not have been able to make it through the ordeal.  My professor said he would feel just the opposite.  It would be a stumbling block to him to think God was behind (in a purposeful way) such a tragedy.  He would take solace in believing God was grieving with him.  

Are there some hardships in life that we do not reckon as trials?  Is it just, simply put, this is life and bad things happen.  In some things there is no rhyme or reason.  God’s hand is not behind every calamity, behind every family blown away by an EF-5, not behind every cancer diagnosis, every sickness and death?

Count it all joy . . . in certain situations almost seems to mock us.  Seriously?  You have got to be kidding, right?    There’s no way in hell I’m going to be joyous in some of the above scenarios (or countless others we could name) we say defiantly.  Forget that!

Yet, almost inexplicably it would seem, some do.  Some are, even at this very moment.  Oh, maybe they didn’t at first.  Maybe not at first impact.  Maybe it was a process.  There was a learning curve that ran long and deep into their dark night of the soul.  But, that’s where they find themselves, joyful.  

We must also remember, James isn’t writing such instruction from a life of ease and contentment.  He’s not lounging in the tropics with pina colada in hand, watching the surf break and the sea gulls gawking over head.  No.  He is writing in the midst of trials, in the eye of the storm of suffering.  He is writing to a group who knows persecution first hand.  James himself will be martyred for his faith, according to Josephus and Eusebius.  

Does it make it all any easier for us?  Probably not.  But, the older I get, the more I realize there is nothing about following Christ that is easy.  Discipleship is about cross-carrying.  It is about self-denial and even death, so that I may decrease and he may increase.  

I humbly admit, it is a hard thing for me to wrap my mind around.  A hard thing to allow to have sway in my soul.  But, James is saying to me, Hey you, Christian there, are you going through a trial, a time of suffering and pain?  Then rejoice. 

I don’t know.  What do you think?  Comments welcome.

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6 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Discipleship and Confession, James

 

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6 responses to “As the Sparks Fly Upward . . .

  1. lessonsbyheart

    May 1, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I think it depends on how you define “joy.” The week after my mom moved to heaven, some dear “Christian” friends asked, “Tami, where’s your joy?”

    “Happy?” I spat back at them, “You want HAPPY??? I’m sorry, but I can’t get there. Joy? Now that’s a different matter. I have joy because in the midst of this pain I have rock-solid faith that God is in control. I know I will see my mom again, and that gives me hope. But, HAPPY??? Sorry, can’t help you out.” What morons!

    Yeah, you can have joy in tribulation – but probably will find it hard to get to “happy!”

    \ 🙂 /

     
    • Timothy Murray

      May 1, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Tami, thanks for the reply. I agree with you that joy and happiness are not one and the same; although sometimes they may overlap.

      I think what I am searching out is the balancing act of God’s sovereignty on the one hand, and life is life and bad things happen on the other. The notion that every hard time that comes into my life is God testing my faith (per James 1.2-3) is what I find difficult.
      I’m coming to a point of saying, yes God is sovereign; but, the world (tainted by sin and death) works the way it works. And sometimes, bad things happen. Doesn’t mean God couldn’t prevent it or intercede, just means he doesn’t usually work that way. Of course, there may be many things he prevents we know nothing about!

       
      • lessonsbyheart

        May 1, 2013 at 11:01 am

        I see. How do you determine what is “good” and what is “bad?” Does this change from year to year? For me, I usually call something “good” that benefits me or makes me feel good, and call something “bad” that hurts or takes away my pleasure. It’s a pretty subjective way of looking at it.

        We live in a fallen world. God, for reasons known only to Him, has chosen to let mankind call the shots and run the show if we want (and most do). This is the danger of doing what is right in our own eyes. What I perceive to be good, my neighbor may well perceive to be evil.

        Trials are certainly *allowed* by God, no doubt about it. We are His and everything is filtered through His wise decisions (Job is a good example). What the enemy means for evil, though, God ALWAYS intents for good. If we lose sight of this, we lose hope.

        The bottom line is this: what do we truly believe about God? Do we really, truly believe that He is good? Until we settle that issue, all that is wrong in the world will continue to cause us to doubt His character.

        Did I get off track again?

        Have a God day!
        \ 🙂 /

         
      • Timothy Murray

        May 1, 2013 at 11:34 am

        No, you didn’t get off track either time. I’m just expressing some of my musings over the last couple of days.
        I like the interaction on these types of questions. One’s theological outlook has much to do with it. Certain schools of thought influence how we hold these things together.
        James clearly teaches that God brings trials into our lives to test and prove our faith. The word used there in the Greek carries the idea of anything that disrupts your comfort and peace. A lot could fit under that heading!

         
      • lessonsbyheart

        May 1, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        That’s for sure. I could give you pages of examples – but will spare you. I’m sure you could do the same.
        May the peace of God surround you today.

         
      • Timothy Murray

        May 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm

        You as well.

         

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