Monday, June 2, 2008

Count it All Joy?

Agnes was walking the crowded streets of Calcutta, India one day and noticed a very ill woman lying within a doorway to a building. The diseased woman was so oblivious to her surroundings as rats nibbled constantly on her toes. Agnes was so taken back by the sight that she approached the woman, picked her up, and managed to tote her to the nearest hospital. The hospital staff was very rude and aloof as they scorned, "Take her away. She will die anyway." Agnes, being a small woman in stature did not allow her size to hinder her. She boldly insisted that they admit the terminally ill woman. After much struggle and arguing the medical staff allowed the woman to be admitted.

Shortly after Agnes left the hospital she began to contemplate all the people she had noticed who were like the sick woman she had carried to the hospital. She then preceded to go to the government to ask for a vacant building. Her request was granted. From that day on, Agnes made it her life's mission to help sick and hurting people. She took in many diseased and dying individuals and provided a comfortable and clean environment to spend their last days. She and her helpers were abused daily as the Hindu leaders as well as followers threw stones at them as they transported sickly individuals into the refuge. The religious people of the community reported them to the police. As the officer entered the building he saw Agnes lovingly bathing a sick woman who had maggots crawling out of open sores on her body. The officer was so touched that he went back and told the religious leaders that he would remove Agnes and her helpers from the facilities on the condition that they themselves would gather enough of their own family members to go in and take over the good work taking place there! Hallelujah!

This is only a small section of the story of Mother Teresa's life. She was a small woman with a big heart. That enormous heart allowed her to accomplish many things during her life in showing the love of Jesus to the hurting. Her acts of kindness and compassion touched many who saw her in action. Her life was a witness because she lived it. I am sure she shared words about the Lord with those she lovingly touched, but her greatest witness was in the way she gave of herself. Only a heart filled with God can move the hearts of others.

This past Wednesday I shared this story with the women in our life group because we were sharing about perseverance. If there was ever a time in my own life to press through regardless of the circumstances it is now. We read and talked about James 1: 2-4 which states, "Count it all joy my brethren, when 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." I know the Lord has been speaking to me and teaching me about persevering in times when it seems like it would be easy to just throw in the towel and take a broader road.

So the question is: How do we practically count it all joy when we are facing pressures from all direction? The word says to do it. But how do we do it?
Here are some things that I need to grow in and I hope you will be encouraged in this also.

First, to count something means to consider. It means to think forward, to look ahead to the benefit and to look past the trauma of the moment because there is no joy in immediate pain. Thinking forward is a habit we must form. James 1:2 says to count it ALL joy. Not a little bit of joy but a fullness of joy. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a fleeing emotion. It is with you a moment then "boom" some circumstance comes along and happiness is gone. God desires to bless us with happy moments throughout our lives. However, His ultimate plan is to do a work so deep within our spirits that joy will be manifested in our lives.

In Galatians, Paul says that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy. Joy is of the spirit. Happiness is of the soul. How can we count it all joy when we face trials and disappointments? The key is thinking forward by contemplating the promises of God. There are thousands of promises in God's word.

Verse three says we know the testing of our faith produces perseverance. Here the word "knowing" is key. We have to know certain things before we can do them. If I do not know what God says about Himself and what he says about me, then it will make it impossible to do anything. If He says He is producing something in me then I can look into His love letter to me and read what He is actually producing. This in turn helps me to think forward instead of thinking about my problems.

We must develop new habits of focusing on the promises instead of the problems. What if we took one promise each day from God's word and thought on that one promise? There would be enough promises to last for thousands of days. Our thinking would change and others would be changed because of what has been cultivated in us. The word of God does something supernatural. It transforms us because the words are straight from the heart of the One who cannot break His promises.

When John and I were dating, we would write love letters to each other almost daily as we were living in different towns. Each day I looked forward to going to my mail box and receiving his words of love to me. The words I would read gave me hope for the future we were planning together and I looked forward to what was ahead. This is an example of thinking forward through reading and receiving the word of God, His love letter to you and to me.

This is becoming a long blog so I will continue this soon. There is more to say about perseverance so check back for the next blog about wholeness and maturity. I am writing this to myself more than anyone else and am challenged that in this season we need to focus on the Promises of God so that we may continue to press forward to the upward call of Christ Jesus.

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