Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Joy in Suffering

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” – James 1:2a

Let’s be honest. Have you ever read one of God’s commands in Scripture and found yourself saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me! God, what were you thinking?”

Here’s an example. In James 1:2-4, the Bible tells us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails 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.”

There’s no way around it. That sounds like crazy talk. Are you kidding me, God? When I get a pink slip from my boss, I’m supposed to consider it pure joy? When my doctor says, “The cancer is back,” I’m supposed to consider it pure joy? When my car breaks down on the side of the road, or my marriage is on the rocks or my dog bites me in the leg, I’m supposed to consider it pure joy?

Yes, you are. But how is that possible? I’m so glad you asked. Today I’d like to share with you two ways that you and I can experience joy in the midst of the trials and suffering of this life.

The first thing you and I must do if we are going to experience lasting joy in this life is this: Remain in Christ’s presence. In John 15, Christ told his disciples,“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my JOY may be in you and that your JOY may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

I don’t know about you, but complete joy sounds really good to me. I don’t want just a sliver of joy. I don’t want a polluted mixture of joy and something else. After all, who wants a mixture of joy and lousiness? But the fact is, one of the reasons so many Christians struggle with sadness and depression is because they live their daily lives apart from Christ. Sure, we believe in him. Yes, we worship him on Sunday mornings. But we don’t remain in his love throughout the week. We can’t just open our Bibles for 30 to 40 minutes on a Sunday morning and call it quits till next week.

To remain in Christ’s love, we need to remain in his teaching and remain in prayer. But interestingly, Jesus doesn’t mention either of these two depression-busters in this John 15 passage. He simply says that if we desire to remain in his love, we must obey his commands—especially his command to love each other. So if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, ask yourself: "Have I disconnected myself from Christ’s joy by failing to obey his command to love others?” You see, when we get depressed, too often it’s because we’re too caught up in our own little world. Are you bummed out because you’re living paycheck to paycheck? Well, join the club. Take the little bit you do have and be a blessing to someone who has even less. Your health isn’t great? Well, I guarantee there are plenty of others whose health is even worse. Be a blessing to them—show them Christ’s love. There is great joy in the presence of the Lord. Remain in his love, and you’ll discover that peace and joy aren’t nearly as elusive as they used to be.

God’s second piece of advice for bringing more joy into your life may surprise you: Spend more time in heaven. What does that mean? No, I’m not trying to send you off to push up daisies before your time. Instead, live out Colossians 3:1-4: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Isn’t that good? You’ve probably heard people say, “Get your head out of the clouds!” But God’s word says, “No! Put your head in the clouds! What you need is to get your head out of the dirt! You’re not an ostrich! You’re not a prairie dog! You’re not a gopher! Your heart needs to rise above the dirt of this world and beat for heavenly things. And your mind needs to rise above the dirt of this world and think about heavenly things.”

Paul says it there in Colossians 3:1: “You have been raised with Christ.” On that first Easter morning, the stone was rolled away and the light of dawn came rushing into that tomb. And when you became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, his light came rushing into your sorry tomb as well. If you’re a Christian, you’re not hopelessly surrounded by dirt anymore. You’re not a prisoner of complete darkness anymore. Your body has already been set free from the grave. Your heart and your mind have already been released from the prison of this world.

So, get up out of the dirt and soar into the clouds. Set your heart and mind on things above. If you do, no matter what trials this dirty old world sends your way, you’ll be able to count it all joy.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.

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