on trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4; MSG

I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this opening directive from James. Every part of it touches exactly where we live.

We hate trials, and think somehow to escape them seems to be a mark of maturity. But God wants us to know that trials are meant to mature us. I have a particularly hard time with trials in which I’ve had a hand in them developing or coming to be. Not to say I don’t struggle with other trials, but especially those. But no trial is excluded here. Trials of many kinds would include all trials. A trial is a trial, even if we were the unwitting cause of it. I was thinking of mistakes we make. But this could include sins, even serious sins, and the fallout and trial we face after committing such. Surely that would be included here, too, but with the added counsel that we confess our sin to God, to the church, when need be to others, repent, and undergo whatever is needed for full restoration. All of that would be a trial to us, needed for maturity in Christ, for sure. But again, I’m just thinking here about trials in general, whatever kind they take.

It’s really hard to see tests and challenges as a sheer gift. Instead we’re prone to see trials in an entirely negative light. The idea of tests to help us as well as challenges is simply a fact of life we need to accept. Trials are inevitable. More important than the actual trial is the good which can come out of it. If we look past the trial itself to whatever it is that God might want to do through it, that can help us.

Under pressure our true self comes out, and often it isn’t pretty. The Lord wants that to improve over time. We need to face the music, not try to escape it. To hang in there, even when it’s hard. To even consider it all joy. To let God teach us what is needed through the process, as well as reshape us more into Christ’s image.

It’s not like we have to be preoccupied with trials all the time. The more we accept this reality, as trials inevitably hit us, the more we can experience what God wants to bring out of them. For our blessing and good, and therefore for the blessing and good of others around us. Not to let go of any of this. To persist in it, our will set to live in and do God’s will. In and through Jesus.

not above worry

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.

1 Peter 5:7; MSG

Not long ago I wrote a post which has helped me up to this time to refuse worry, holding it at bay while I try to see the bigger picture. The emphasis in the post was that through God’s grace and provision to us, we’re to make the effort needed to grow, and as that letter says in the end, to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter).

I love the thought from Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, the idea of living carefree before God. God is careful, or full of care in the right way over us, and will take care of whatever troubles us. It almost seems like this is something that we simply much choose to do.

I’ve noticed in my own life that when I get back in the worrying mode, I just go on from one gnawing concern to another. No sooner do I get out, or break free than another one is either on me, or just around the corner. I remember years ago that when I wasn’t worrying about something, I was kind of like worrying when the next worry would hit me.

Contrast that to simply choosing to live carefree before God. Or as the more literal translation says, to cast all our anxiety on God. So that it requires our effort, but is also something we simply live in. That’s when I’ve found that once again I can hold worries at bay. Refusing to receive them so that I simply live anxiety free.  That makes an amazing difference in being able to receive and appreciate God’s good gift and goodness to us in Jesus. Either I think I have to be uptight, or believe God will take care of whatever the concern is.

So it’s one or the other. We’ll live in anxiety and worry over one thing after the next. Or we’ll refuse to do that, instead casting our cares on God so that we can live carefree lives before him. I suppose for many, there’s something in between. I am beginning, I think to understand that it’s better to simply live in God’s peace no matter what happens, then to not live in that peace while supposedly avoiding trouble. Problems, trouble, even trials are unavoidable in this life.

I have managed my anxiety issues better in the past months. But with the recent post mentioned above had basically broken free from it altogether, little more than a week, ha. I want to go on now, trusting the Lord will be with me to help me deal responsibly with situations, hopefully with his wisdom and not my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Just to live within the normal tension of life, but more and more experiencing that peace of God that surpasses our understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). In and through Jesus.

the predicament of Mary and Joseph

Mary (Luke 1:26-38) especially, but also Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) faced a predicament over Jesus’s miraculous conception as a full human in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. The church has called this the virgin birth. And it would have been as much a nose wrinkler and eye brow raiser then as it is today. No matter what Mary said, as noble a person as Joseph may have known her to be, Joseph was set to abide by the law of Moses, but to do so mercifully, avoiding the awful sentence of stoning, instead putting Mary away quietly and as privately as possible.

But then the angel appears to Joseph, and he finds out that something extraordinary has indeed happened. And that he is to be the step father of no less than the Son of God, the Messiah. How far along Joseph’s Christology was at this point, I don’t know, but we do know one thing for sure: Joseph was in a walk of faith over something he knew would be challenging in days to come, something he would have just as soon closed now. But with this new word from God, he did what for in all intent and purposes his wife, certainly his wife under the law already, what she had done. He obeyed God, even when in ordinary circumstances what he was doing made no sense, and even seemed to contradict his devotion to God.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Matthew 1:24

Mary, of  course was in the same dilemma, only her trouble was heightened. She was to be the bearer of the child when she had yet to be joined to her husband for this to be possible. Of course this was all revealed to her at once by an angel, so that she had the full understanding of what was to happen right away, whereas Joseph did not have that advantage, but had to wrestle or work through it before an angel appeared to him.

Mary’s wonder along with her response are simply beautiful, and something for us to emulate, when we’re faced with God’s word, but would do something different if left to ourselves, something that may make all the sense in the world and seem right to us. It seems that Mary was not one who would come up with all sorts of objections and contrary thoughts. She was humble and open to whatever God would tell her, with a heart to serve the Lord in doing so, and considering what she faced, no matter what.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:38a

And so the ones to raise the Christ child would themselves faced something of the same trouble their son would face in the scandal of God becoming flesh and being the good news that all of us need. And we might face, in a different category for sure, but still just the same, testings of our own as to whether or not we’ll listen and obey God’s word, or not. And the results, while again not in terms of salvation for the world, will still have the same sort of impact on our own family, or friends.

Are we prepared to listen and hear God’s word to us, or not? What are we doing, so that might be the case? What practices have we adopted so that like Mary and Joseph, Christ might be known even in and through us?

May the Lord make this Christmas to be a time when Jesus is more fully made known, even in that manger, and beyond that through us as well. Through God’s word in and through Jesus.