"Count it all joy, my brothers, 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 nothing."--James 1:2-4 How do you respond to the trials of faith? I hope you do a lot better than I do. My modus operandi tends to be: complain, whine, repeat. I know that has been how I've been responding to things this past year. I have bought into the lie that I should not have to suffer or that if I am going through trials, then I must have done something wrong to deserve it.
While that may be the case if I entertain sin in my life, I also am realizing that even when I follow Jesus, I should expect to suffer. Even if I am 100% in His will, I need to not act so surprised when (not if) suffering comes my way. As I was reminded this morning in my devotional reading, in God's Kingdom, suffering is never wasted. He allows it for very specific purposes, even though there are times when I wish He could have devised some other way of teaching me these same lessons!
So what should I do when I experience suffering, regardless of the circumstances? James tells me to not only bravely bear up under them but to even count it a joy. How do I do that? One way is by thanking Him, if not for the trials themselves, then for the opportunities for growth in faith and trust that they afford. In times like this, thanksgiving is a sacrifice of praise indeed, one that yields far more than I can imagine. When I approach these trials with a thankful heart, He realigns my understanding and gives a purpose and meaning to my suffering. When I rejoice in what he is doing, I am forced to trust Him and His wisdom, which can draw me closer to him. Joy then emerges as a by-product of faith.
I am learning that I do not have to feel thankful to choose thanksgiving. In this case, as in many such seemingly counter-intuitive acts of faith, God does His work after we take the step to trust Him. If I wait until I feel thankful, then I may miss out on joy completely.
As I was thinking about the pity parties that I often hold for myself, I realized how little good they did me. All it did was make me focus on "poor me" and all my hardship. As a result, I felt like it was up to me to solve my own problems. I felt like I was all alone and that even God had abandoned me.
But the truth is that He is very near, and if I choose to look up to Him in thanksgiving and faith, He will change my perspective, strengthen my will, and encourage my heart to keep pressing forward. As I have brought my struggles to Him this morning, He reminded me of all the good things He was doing in me and in those around me:
- He is teaching me what it means to be compassionate, for I do not naturally have this gift.
- He is forcing me to deal with hard issues in my life that, if left unchallenged, will undermine the good things He wants to do through me.
- He allows me to feel the depth of my sin and shortcoming, which then gives His grace a greater beauty. As long as I think I am a pretty decent person, I don't need Him. But when I see the darkness of my heart, His lovingkindness towards me is even greater.
- My feelings of helplessness force me to accept help from others, teaching me humility.
I am sure there will be many more blessings and benefits to come, but these are the few that come to mind. Interestingly, He is showing me how this new life with Anah will not just benefit her, but maybe, more importantly, refine me. There are many times when I do not know what good I am doing her, but God is showing me how much she is doing for my own stubborn heart.
Our God is good, is He not? In His sovereignty He can bring good out of even the worst trials. Instead of nursing our wounds and trying to escape from our sorrows, let us turn to Him in thanksgiving instead. I am learning that I can offer up my pain to use for His purposes, and I can ask that through them, I will learn to grow in trust and steadfastness.
I know that I am not out of the woods yet. But this little reminder today is another piece of truth that I am tucking away into my heart. In faith, I want to sow that seed of truth so that it may yield fruit in His time.
"Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!" --Psalm 107:21-22