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. (Emphasis mine.)
This post might be slightly Sunshiney. So, that’s good, right? It probably helped that I painted yesterday. Have I mentioned that I’ve recently rediscovered painting. It’s only with cheap acrylics, and very simple pictures, but it’s really fun, and helps me somehow feel better.
After essentially vomiting all the contents of my brain, heart, and soul into a blog post yesterday, I immediately got to thinking about this passage in James, so often quoted by Christians to one another in troubled times.
Too many of us quote them blithely, not stopping to think what it actually means to the suffering person we’re trying to encourage. I know for a fact I’ve done it.
However, when we are hurting, the words of Scripture are what we need in order to find comfort. We need to point each other to these words, in love. Point each other to the examples in Scripture of suffering believers who did, indeed, “consider it pure joy,” to suffer and go through trials of many kinds.
I know that I, personally, need these reminders. If for nothing else, to keep my mind off of myself, and to keep my eyes on Him Who Loves Me, and Who Carries Me.
Paul and Silas come to mind. Beaten, thrown into prison, and bound in stocks, they sang praises to God. This scene is often portrayed as something they did because they were super-Christians. Because there was something intrinsically special about their faith. I don’t think that’s true – though they are both, indeed, spiritual giants in Church history.
I tend to think that, once the door was locked, and they were alone, they were quiet for awhile. Then, just like any of us might do, they turned to music for comfort. Instead of playing their favorite worship songs on their iPod, they sang the Psalms they already knew. Maybe they started out quietly, hesitantly, just trying to cling to what faith they had. Maybe they were even weeping. Maybe they were trying to forget where they were. Perhaps, they started out simply trying to cope, and keep their sanity in the darkness.
Maybe their conscious intention wasn’t to “consider it pure joy,” but to stave off despair and discouragement. Maybe they even started out just trying to pass the time and fight the dark and stink of their surroundings. To shut out the voice of the enemy whispering deceitful, disparaging, and discouraging words as loudly as he could into their minds.
I highly doubt their praises came from a feeling of joy. After all, they were human. (Even King David is praising God with one breath, while fighting despair in the next–rarely are the Psalms written in “pure joy.”)
So, they start singing. Then what happens? They get so loud that the other prisoners hear them. So loudly that God Himself hears, shakes the prison walls, and frees them. As a result, their jailer and his entire family come to know the Joy that is Jesus Christ and him crucified!!!
I’ll bet the joy welled up as their weak voices gained strength. As the words of their favorite Psalms of praise heartened them to remember their Old Testament examples, and how God always sends a deliverer. As their voices rang louder, the voice of the Enemy lost its strength, and had to shrink back.
Joy walked into that prison cell in response to praise. Praise they likely didn’t feel much like offering. Praise they chose to sing to help them cling to the Truth. To Faith.
Of course, I don’t know that for sure, but it just makes sense to me. I’m pretty sure they didn’t walk into the prison grinning like idiots and skipping along behind their guards. They were in a lot of physical pain. Bloody. Dirty. Likely exhausted, hungry, and thirsty.
I’ll bet they were as surprised as anyone when the doors of the prison opened, and their stocks came loose.
Considering our trials to be pure joy doesn’t come naturally to the Christian. Ever.
Joy is not a feeling. It is not happiness. A smile is no more an indicator of joy than a garage door signals the presence of a car. A joyful Christian does not necessarily mean a smiling Christian. To quote a friend:
“Joy runs deep. Like an undercurrent that is always there, no matter what splashes into the visible waters.” ~Katherine T.
I think Joy means diving down deep, under the current, and hiding oneself in the quiet stillness of God. Trusting that there is a Reason for every moment of pain. Persevering to the very edge of our endurance.
Joy means a Christian who is sure of the work God is doing, deep down, even when their mind, soul, and body are crying out in pain and discouragement. It means that they understand and acknowledge that pain, suffering, and trials are the only means we have on this earth of growth. They are the only way we can learn to persevere. To keep walking when our feet feel like they’re going to fall off.
It means choosing to sing praises, even if we can barely mouth the words.
It doesn’t always make us feel better, but it does make us, in fact, better. More whole. More complete. More mature and sure of the faith we have. It makes us a little bit more like Jesus.
Choosing joy does not mean donning a mask and hiding tears with your smile.
Honestly, I don’t always know what joy looks like. But for me, right now, it means reading the words of Scripture, believing them, and obeying them in whatever capacity I have in the moment.
For me, right now, it means making choices to not only be real, and express my feelings, but to let them drive me to the Cross, instead of deeper into myself. To let people into my dark places, so they can see the same Light my eyes are focused on.
Accept me. Walk with me. Let me rant and rave and cry, yes.
Encourage me with Scripture. Remind me of who I am in Christ. Remind of the Truth: that he died, was buried, and raised to life–all to erase my sin and bring me into Salvation. Remind me that he is coming again, and I am ready to meet him, in spite of everything. He has cleansed me utterly, and is now only refining me. Working in me. Working through me.
Remind me that Joy is a choice, and that it can shake the prison walls and free me.
I want to be open to loving rebuke, biblical encouragement, and honest feedback. What I can’t stand is triteness. Smallness. Christianese phrases thrown at me with no understanding or compassion. Please know, that if the Lord lays something on your heart to tell me, please obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Even if you know it might be hard for me to hear. Pray about it, then open up and HELP ME.
One thing I don’t want to become is unteachable. It’s a sure way for me to become isolated and vulnerable.
Thanks for reading. You guys are great!
Grace & Peace,