Sunday, September 28, 2008

Counting Joy

"Count it all joy brothers, when you encounter troubles of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your name produces perseverance." - James 1:2

I've always been a fan of the book of James. Maybe because its topics seemed immediately applicable in my life. Taming the tongue, understanding the intertwining of faith and works, overcoming trials and temptation, these were things I could readily relate to. It may be why my father encouraged me to memorize the entire book during 6th grade. That, or as a result of my dad's significant wisdom, he realized any adolescent girl could benefit from memorizing passages about taming the tongue.

My affection and familiarity for the book doesn't prevent me from being surprised by new insights when I read it. It's like a lasting friendship that still challenges you after years of interaction. I know what the friend is going to say, and yet the words cut anew. James' ability to convict remains regardless of the passage of time.

Recently, it didn't require me to read far into the book for this purpose to be achieved. As I was reminding again to count my trials as joy, I realize that maybe this was bigger than I originally anticipated. I also thought that the reason I was to count trials as joy was because it produced perseverance. In other words, I adopted the "no pain, no gain" approach. Sure I didn't want trials but if I could successfully navigate them, I would be a stronger Christian as a result.

Although I believe the aforementioned to be true, I also believe that I need to view my struggles as joyous for entirely different reasons. Counting my trials as joy means not only recognizing the good that can come to me as a result, but I should count them as joy because of the opportunity that it gives me to make God look good. In other words, when things are tough people expect us to question God, to doubt His goodness, and to be lax in our praise. Trials make us superstars because everyone is watching how we will respond. What better opportunity to demonstrate God's grace. What better time to reflect His love.

Now I try to look as trials not as hurdles to overcome, but as a finish line to cross. Hurdles are obstacles that I'm trying to avoid; the finish line is marked by celebration. I look at trials as an opportunity to celebrate God and His promises, and thereby as an opportunity to glorify Him. And there's no greater joy than that.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Desire vs. Destiny

My pastor (and friend) challenged me several weeks ago to the standards that I use when evaluating music. As I suspect it is with a lot of Christians, my standard had pretty much been as long as there is no cussing in it, it's probably ok to listen to. But what my pastor made me realized is that if all my life is centered around glorifying God, than that's what my music should be about too. When held to this higher standard, much seemingly harmless music doesn't pass muster.

A recent song by Kenney Chesney has definitely fallen short of my new bar for acceptability. In it Kenney Chesney sings "everyone wants to go to heaven . . . but no one wants to go there now." Although most people may think this is just a tongue in cheek expression of how people approach life, it prompts me to consider how true this is. Ask nine out of ten people if they want to go to heaven and they'll probably say "yes." In fact, most people probably think that their final destination is in the celestial realms. And yet this misconception about their destination conflicts with their desire. Because although they want heaven, they want their life here on Earth more. They want the freedom to make their own choices and live for their own goals, ambitions and priorities. They desire control more than Christ, and in the end their desire for themselves will determine their destination.

We want to know that the end of our story is a good one, but we aren't willing to sacrifice our desires on Earth to achieve that ultimate goal. Whatever we ultimately chose - our desire or God's - they determine our ultimate destination.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Earth, Wind and Time

I've always thought that I had a great belief in the power of prayer. I know in my head that God can do anything and I've articulated that to people who are going through pain. However, the belief in the power of prayer often falters when I'm going through my own trials. I know that I should be praying, but I often want to figure out a way out of the mess myself. I know that I need to turn to God, but I often turn to my own reasoning and "wisdom." Prideful, yes. Effective, no.

What God has taught me in the past few days is that not only does He theoretically have power over all, He has trustworthy control over it. This was demonstrated to me in two unrelated ways. First, in a moment of stress caused by several unexpected time constraints, a new friend grabbed my hand to pray. As she prayed she stated that we knew God controlled time and so He could enable me to accomplish things that I didn't think I had the time to do. Secondly, as Hurricane Gustav approached and time and time again I heard people asked for the destruction to be minimal, I was reminded that God controlled the storm's path. Prayer for it to change direction was just as appropriate as prayer for its projected outcome. The interesting thing was that neither my personal storm, or Hurricane Gustav were as devastating as originally projected. And while I don't know all of God's reasons for changing the path of each, I do know that one of the outcomes has been a recognition that often I pray to God for the things I know I can't do anything about - storms, sickness, and the such. But often I neglect to turn to Him in the more simple things of life like meeting my deadlines and keeping my commitments. Gustav and God have taught me that its not just the dramatic that He cares about - or in which He intervenes. Even the clock bows to His commands.


Better Things Ahead: September 2008

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