Finding Joy

One year, for our daughter’s birthday, we hid envelopes of cash around our house, but we didn’t tell her where they were. She had to solve increasingly difficult riddles to find them. It didn’t matter how long she had to hunt and it didn’t matter how difficult the puzzle, she was determined to persevere because the reward was worth it. As we watched her, my husband and I took tremendous pleasure in her delight as she completed each challenge.

Joy can be like those prizes hidden in envelopes. It can linger just beyond reach camouflaged by increasingly difficult and puzzling circumstances. But once we learn that there is a prize hidden behind each trial, it changes everything. In James 1:1-18, James challenges his fellow believers to consider it pure joy when they face trials. He encourages them to be diligent because the reward is worth it.

Joy can be like prizes hidden in envelopes. It can linger just beyond reach camouflaged by increasingly difficult and puzzling circumstances. But once we learn that there is a prize hidden behind each trial, it changes everything.

Counting Trials As Joy (v1-4)

Life holds many certainties for every person. For example:

  • Every person has a birth date. 
  • Every person needs oxygen to breathe. 
  • Every person will consume food for nourishment. 

James adds our experiences with trials to this list of certainties. 

  • Every person will face trials.

James writes in verse 2, “whenever they face trials” (NASB) or “when they face trials” (ESV). Trials are not an if; they are a when

On the surface, James’ instruction to count trials and the testing of our faith as joy makes little sense until James’ explains. He writes in verse 3 that the testing of faith, the developing of perseverance, and perseverance finishing its work will make us mature and complete lacking in nothing, enabling us to receive the prize.

Winning the Prize (v5-12)

Like our daughter needed wisdom to solve her riddles, we need God’s wisdom to persevere in trials. James writes that we are to ask in faith for wisdom. In faith means believing that God will provide what we need, understanding that may not be what we want.

Had our daughter complained the riddles were too hard and given up after finding one or two envelopes, she would have missed out on the complete prize. Similarly, without godly wisdom, we might survive our trials, but it might be with an inward focus, full of complainants, causing bitterness to grow. I need wisdom from God because I don’t merely desire to survive my trial, I want to endure my suffering in such a way that I earn the prize that matters: the crown of life (v12). 

If you’re reading this, you have a birth date. Like trials, physical birth is a certainty for every living person. But there is another kind of birth that leads to life.

James describes two births in verse 15-18. Temptation is the origin of birth one. We are tempted by our evil desires, dragged away, and enticed. After desire is conceived, this temptation gives birth to sin, and this sin, when it is full gown, gives birth to death (v15)—our sin births death.

The second birth is the new life God grants a person when they are born again (v18). This birth comes through the word of truth and leads to life everlasting, but it is impossible to muster up the strength and wisdom within you to cause your rebirth. You need the power of the Holy Spirit to work in you. Heed James’ advice in verse 5 and confidently ask your generous God for the faith to believe His Word. He is the source of every good and perfect gift (17), and the very source of spiritual life brought forth from His Word (18).

Trials are camouflaged gifts that produce the character traits of a faithful Christ follower. Always remember that Jesus is not just walking with you through trials, but he has prepared the way and suffered on your behalf, so you do not grow weary as you depend on Him. Proverbs 2 encourages the believer to accept God’s Word, to store up His commands, to call out for wisdom and understanding and search for it as if it were a hidden treasure of silver. Only then, do we find the knowledge of God. Search for His wisdom and the supernatural fruit of the Holy Spirit will align your heart with God’s purpose and plan for His glory.

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The Survivor, the Sufferer, Guilt, and the Gospel

Ministry opportunities have carried me from tragic circumstances to tragedy. I’ve walked alongside desperate parents and grieving hearts. I’ve watched the healthy fall ill, and I’ve seen the worst of humanity and the horror of accidents. I’ve returned to my family to battle confusing feelings of guilt and shame. Some call it survivor’s guilt. It’s when a person feels guilty for surviving a tragic event. I believe it is present in the less recognized setting of ministry.

Thankfulness and guilt collide
Survivors have questions: Why has the Lord blessed/protected/healed them but not others? The survivor knows they are no better than the sufferer. Why did God, in His wisdom, decide for today that the survivor’s health would be intact or their family would be whole? Survivors are not afflicted in the same way or to the same capacity as the sufferer, but they nonetheless stagger under the weight of their questions. READ MORE

 

When your cracked heart spills out ugly

How long, O Lord? How long until this suffocating weight lifts and lungs fill with breath? How far will the greedy fingers of darkness reach? How deep must I dig to bury grief? Crippled and raw, I drop at your feet weeping fresh wounds and blackened bruises. I cannot withstand this avalanche of calamity.

The winds batter your faithful. The tempest abuses your chosen. This reed drowns in the very water that once gave life. Where are you, Lord? Why do you tarry? Where is your redemption? Why isn’t it now?

My cracked open heart spills out ugly. The short-suffering, inpatient, unloving, unforgiving, resentful, discontent, unrested, harsh-hearted sin that stiffens against accepting anything but good from your hand. And the wind blows.

But even here, You lead me. Even here, Your hand guides me. Even when the angry gusts twist and tear and push and pull, You are here. And I can no longer resist your presence. This empty heart ringing hallow beats chooses praise. Praise to the God who never changes, who never walks away. Who understands empty because He spilled out empty for love. Praise to the God who allows the hardship and tears – but doesn’t waste a single drop on the ground, who keeps count of my tossing, my sacrifice of praise.

Praise to the God who sees beauty in broken, who receives praise from fractured bones, who promises one day to press a nail-scared hand to my cheek and wipe away every tear.

O Lord, do not tarry.