The Mystery of Thanks in the Midst of Trials

When reading or hearing this verse, I've been known to cringe a bit. Not as much today as I have in the past, but still…does it get to you as much as it does to me?

It's right there in the beginning of the book of James. He begins his address to God’s people dispersed across the lands. They have sinned and suffered much. Their faith is weak, yet James starts off by telling them,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” ~ James 1:2

Hold up.

Not, “I can’t believe what you have endured.”

Not even, “You wretched sinners. You brought this suffering upon yourself. Now fix it.”

And not, “Take heart.” “You are loved.” “You are worthy.”

I’m not always fond of James. My flesh rises up and y’all, it’s not good. When life’s particularly challenging and this verse comes to mind, I’d kind of like to strike out with a fist.

Haven't you ever wanted to punch something when life-altering truth hits you hard in the face?

Mystery of Thanks in the Midst of Trials

It’s right then when the Holy Spirit holds me back like a good coach and says, “Woah. See there? What’s that inside of you? These words are full of holy purpose. What’s causing you to react so strongly?”

Um…I don’t actually want these trials. So, could you snap your fingers and get rid of them for me?

Just when I don’t want to hear anymore, it's as if the Holy Spirit coach says, “Stick with me. I’ll help you.”

I take a deep breath.

I choose surrender over staunchness.

“OK, show me, Lord. Tell me what I need to know. I’m listening.”

I'm reminded of another verse which sounds eerily familiar to the words of James.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ Thessalonians 5:16-18

This time Paul is speaking. Y'all, I'm not as prone to want to unleash anger at Paul. He was a man of intense passion and incredible endurance. Something about his tenacity and fervor makes me want to just sit and listen.

Then I wonder. Why would Paul say to give thanks in all circumstances? Could he really mean all circumstances? Like...ALL?

What did Paul, or those around him, know of trials?

A lot. We read about them in many of the epistle letters of the New Testament. In this book alone we hear about living through various persecutions, isolation, and unnamed afflictions.

In the study of history, we knew these trials were of great severity. The likes of which many of us will never know.

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:2

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4

Yet...

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:6

God's followers in Thessalonica endured all kinds of affliction while receiving God's word with joy. How could they do this? Could we do the same?

Continually, Paul chose to give thanks. He gave thanks for the work of the gospel message. He thanked the church for their faith. He encouraged and exhorted them to encourage and exhort one another. Words like his sound like a profundity of gratitude even when not stating it specifically.

He gave thanks in the midst. Not when things got better.

Both Paul and James speak of faith which grows through perseverance. These men beheld grace with a grateful heart in the midst of trials. It kind of boggles my mind and makes me wonder what I'm missing when I'm not experiencing a similar attitude.

What else does James say, though? What's the whole sentence?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” ~ James 1: 2-3

He goes on,

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ~ James 1:4

Steadfastness. Perfect and complete. Lacking in nothing.

This message of considering trials with joy, pricks the heart for many of us. We want to know joy, but we don’t want the trials. We want to get around the pain and into the promised land. We want it all, without any trouble. We want the blessings without the burdens. We want God the way we want Him.

Yet, every time we try to make it happen, we miss the wonder of it all.

How do we have steadfastness? Through enduring trials when faith is tested. How do we find a life well-lived, perfect and complete, and lacking in nothing? In Christ, through Christ, and by Christ, in every way. Not the easy way, but the ways which seems odd, contrary, and full of mystery.

It won't always look like we think it should. In fact, it often won't. Yet, we press on.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.~ James 1:12

I struggle to fully understand a heart which finds this power of grace so devastating to one's condition that thanks and joy are the result.

Yet, as I wonder, the wrestling of my own soul finds this settling of sorts. The Spirit continues to nurture in such a way that thankfulness finds a way to invade. As I turn towards the truth and embrace the fullness of God's ways over my own, I find it ever more likely to give thanks.

When all hell is breaking loose around us, a heart centered on the presence of our good God can't help but find a way to express thanks. Because even if nothing good is found around us, a good God can always be found with us.

Like Paul's attributions, our giving thanks never denies the pain and suffering we endure. It doesn't pretend it isn't there. Instead, our choice to be thankful is a mystery of faith which precludes even greater faith.

I feel much calmer now. How about you?

These hard to grasp truths may make us want to hit something when first they challenge our hearts, but I'm pretty sure those feelings will continually dissipate in the face of continued gratitude.

A heart which which seeks the mystery of giving thanks in the midst of trials is a heart which finds the goodness of God.

May this mystery be one which many of us explore, even when life is particularly full of trials.

PRAYER: Father God, we cannot fully understand the way in which you work. Even so, we chose to trust you today. Help us see what we cannot see. We ask the Holy Spirit coach to give us guidance today and show us what we need to know about you. Lead us into the mystery of thanks and let us know the gift of gratitude more intimately today.

Thank you for who you are. Thank you for loving us so much more than we could ever know. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen.

 

 

 

On Being Broken & Chosen {The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp}

“I feel too broken to be chosen.”

Ann Voskamp’s words come like an arrow, piercing me with their ability to identify. How I’ve known brokenness all too well and how feeling unchosen has caused a further broken heart.

thebrokenway_aholybroken

Many of us know the pains which come from a life found to be imperfect.

A life well-lived is only found in a life lived, and there is no way to live without experiencing the brokenness of humanity.

We may try to pull the pieces back together on our own, but eventually we find our ability to do so is like disappearing glue. It doesn’t stay, and even when it does, the result isn’t nearly as beautiful as it could be.

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In the hands of Jesus, our brokenness not only finds wholeness, but a way of whole giving for the sake of another’s whole heart. This is Ann’s call to a world in need. To see our brokenness and give it up as an offering. To see how we are all broken and in need, and to be the gift for one another.

Ann’s book, The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into Abundant Life, captured so much essence of the same passion which beats in me daily. In writing, in ministry, and in life, my heart has cried out for the healing of brokenness since I was a child. For myself and for others.

Can I be broken and be chosen? Can I see another broken and choose them?

God wants us to know we are chosen in our brokenness.

What breaks inside of us is sometimes the very thing which needs to break. It hurts and we want to fix it all right now, but God’s ways are hard to fathom and He might just let us break a bit more. Because He’s coming to reshape, remold, and redeem all things into what he wants to make new.

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A new me and a new you.

Our newness comes through the identification of suffering with a God who suffered on our behalf.

We can come to know his great love and sacrifice for us as we walk through the hard things in life, or we can choose to walk away and miss out on all that His love poured out for us means.

God chooses to know us in our brokenness and desires that we choose Him because he was broken for us.

Ann uses her eloquent style of story in way which beats compassion and truth into the wounding in all of us. She encourages us to find an abundant way of living through the honesty of hurting. In her gentle way, she reminds us to allow our broken to be opened.

 

"It's always the vulnerable heart that breaks broken hearts free."

“The miracle happens in the breaking.”

~~~~~~~~~~

My pages are full of highlights and notes. So much of what she shared resonates with the very message I share here. A life well-lived is one with open hands ready to see what God will reveal along the way.

Meet Ann and her message at thebrokenway.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Courtesty of The Blog About Network (Facebook) and Zondervan publishers, I was able to read and reviews book. And…even better. Give away a copy of her book to one of you!

And…that’s not all. How about a copy of the DVD Study Guide as well as the book? (NOTE: I do not have the DVD yet, but will send when available.)

How will this work? Let's keep it simple.

To win, comment below on one of the following:
  • What does it mean to you to be broken?
  • Do you struggle with feeling chosen in your brokenness?
  • Have you found healing and an abundant way of living through vulnerable breaking?
  • What scripture, song, poem, words, or art has ministered to you when you were hurting?

 

WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED FRIDAY EVENING, November 18th

 

 

 

If We Really Want to Have it All {Choose Surrender}

As I look back and consider the reasons I've lived stuck, I see many. I see them now as I've fought hard to know the kind of freedom Christ offers, realizing there must be more to this Christian life than the pain and suffering I've known. God's shown me things like false beliefs, hurts and injustices, negative thinking patterns, assumptions and presumptions, self-focus, and more.

Learning to recognize these and working through them is a huge part of what this blog is about. It's a significant piece of Unleash: Heart & Soul Care sheets (to be released soon). By identifying what's holding us back from experiencing the fullness of what Christ offers to believers, no matter what we're going through, we can explore greater riches in the kingdom of God and become more of who we were designed to be.

To have it all, is to know what it means to have all of what God graciously gives to us. To have it all begins with wanting all of God. To want more and more of who He is and how He works because it is the best all of all.

As believers we have so much available and we can often miss out on the power of God moving in our lives because we've allowed other things to keep us from them. Maybe we already know these are damaging, but do we realize they are keeping us from knowing more of Christ?

If we say we want God, and we say we want the things of God, I hope and pray we would reject the things that are not of God so we can truly know and love him more.

Fear, pride, and control. These three often keep us stuck  and they affect every one of us. They certainly affect me.

Sometimes they even suffocate my ability to remember that living well is not only an option, but wholly possible for each and every believer. They keep me from resting in the strength and peace of God. They also restrict my ability to see with awe and wonder this God who never fails to be who he is and do what he says he’ll do.

As they creep into my heart, anxieties rise and it can be as if I never remembered the things which God has shown me of himself.

Ever been there?

Choose Surrender

FEAR

Fears over circumstances cause me to look at what I have and don’t have, they lead me to believe it’s up to me to make things happen. They reduce the trust I want to have in the only one who is wholly trustworthy in every circumstance.

Fears take over when we operate in anything less than the fullness of who we are in Christ. When we know anything less than the presence of Christ with us and within.

Fears deny the faithful work of God and his ability to complete his good purposes. They make us believe it is more dangerous to move ahead than to stay stuck where we are.

 

PRIDE

Pride leads me to believe that if it is to be it’s up to me. That whatever works out for my good is merely the product of my efforts. Conversely, whatever doesn’t work out is either someone else's fault or an indication of a fault I just need to overcome.

Pride blocks our ability to see Christ and our need for him. It tells us we are stronger and better than we are. It leads to entitlement, denial, and potentially a hardened heart. Pride says, “Forget others. Forget God. I got this.”

When we let pride lead the way, we find destruction blazing the trail.

 

CONTROL

Control lies. It tells us we have the ability to make others think and act in the ways we want. It happens when we believe we can manage outcomes which were never part of our God-given territory to manage.

Control is a relentless force which refuses the power of God to lead the way. When we feel anxious about the way things might work out, we might do whatever it takes to make it work out in our favor without waiting to see God’s favor granted.

When our sense of control is threatened, fears seep in and pride takes over.

What a vicious cycle of living stuck we find ourselves in.

 

SURRENDER

Whether we are afraid and think there is nothing we can do, or we live from a place of pride and control thinking we can do it all and must, the only way out is to choose surrender.

A daily surrender of our will for the will of Christ leads us to a life well-lived because it trusts in the one who gave us a life to live.

God gave me the word “surrender” this year. I wrestled with him and I’m pretty sure I cried. I knew there was a part of my thinking patterns warped in the way I understood surrender. It got kind of messed up with unhealthy views on submission which kept me in a position of not asserting myself and vulnerable to the whims and demands of others.

The kind of surrender God asks from us is hard to do, but it is always a piece of the process towards living well. When we surrender to the ways and will of God, we do not live as a victim of others or circumstances. We are not enslaved to our own thoughts & needs. Instead, we live free in our ability to love, give, and enjoy life more fully.

Our fear, our pride, and our control, they keeps us from living in full freedom as believers. If only we saw the way in which the enemy tempts us to stick with these rather than experiencing God's best.

But we hold on to what we know, afraid of what God knows. Surrender opens our clenched fists and puts it all in the hands of God.

I get it, if you're anything like me you want what you want and you want it now. You might even want things which are not only good things but in line with you believe to be God ordained things. Even so, choosing to surrender the getting, the knowing, and the having to have, frees us up to have more of God and be more of who we are designed to be.

If we really want to have it all, we must give all of ourselves to the work of God in our lives. We find all of what we truly need with Christ.

Only as we surrender our ways for his ways, and surrender our expectations for His, will we find more of Him. Our daily surrender gives us room to love him more and we begin to know greater peace, joy, and freedom.

CULTIVATE WITH PRAYER:

Lord, I have been full of pride, fear, and control. These things keep me from living as you've designed me to. Help me to see and want all that you have for me as your child. Thank you for giving the gift of the Holy Spirit's presence so I could be convicted, encouraged, and comforted. Thank you for loving me in the midst of my mess and reminding me that your arms open, waiting for me to come to you.

I choose today to surrender my fears, my pride, and my attempts to control. I give these to you and humbly receive all you have for me today. Help me to know what this is and to remember. I love you, Lord. Amen.

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