Lucia's Blog: "COUNT IT ALL JOY"
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Isaiah 55:8-9

Isaiah 55:8-9

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"COUNT IT ALL JOY"

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
James 1:2-4


The winds of difficulty and suffering often threaten and render us weak.  Such winds are usually cold and merciless, knocking us down. When they blow into our lives, they carry us away with a storm of questions, doubts, fears, discouragement, and disillusionment.  At that moment, we must realize that we need the strength of God, secure and unmovable, to keep us from being swept away.  One of the most troublesome areas in our walk with the Lord is life's trials and tribulations. In Acts 14:22, Paul states:
“Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Let’s consider God’s point of view when He sees us suffering and how He expects us to respond:


I.   THE BLESSINGS OF SUFFERING AND PAIN:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us... 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:18, 22).

Pain is usually defined as “unpleasantness.” Just as physical pain is an early warning system to the brain, so it is a warning system to our souls. Pain reminds us that something is wrong. But pain itself, the hurt of pain, is a blessing. There are so many lessons we can learn from suffering.  It is vital to experience pain that we may learn the blessings that spring out of it.  So often, we miss out on such blessings because we do not learn the spiritual lessons it can bring us. Sadly pain drives many away from their faith. Pain causes many to blame God for allowing misery. On the other hand, it turns others to God alone.

Many times when pain strikes us, we get upset, angry, and frustrated.  Most of us have been there! But it is faith in God that always brings us back to the fact that He is still in control, that He holds the future and that we must trust in Him.  He has many times brought me down from the clouds with trying times. I have learned to trust Him.  Prayer, God's Word, and singing songs of praise can help us find our way back to hope and faith even when we cannot see a way out.  In all these, we must learn to see God's beauty.  We must thank Him for being faithful and lifting us up when we are struggling.  We must be determined to see the good in it and the blessings God is bestowing upon us through pain and suffering.  He shows us over and over how much He is mindful of us.  So we must purpose in our heart to keep our eyes open to see the blessings He is providing for us.  So we must choose to put on our blessing spectacles that we may see His hand and mindfulness in our troubled times.

Consider the following ways in which pain or suffering help our Christian walk with our Lord and Savior:
    • It draws us closer to Christ:
When one experiences pain, whether it is inflicted or afflicted, we are forced to choose whether we are going to run away so the pain will subside or cling to Jesus tightly.  It is so much easier to run away from pain.  But we must choose to hang tightly to God and draw all the strength we need from Him to face our suffering.  Whatever pain we go through, it is very present.  Pain is good for us Christians because the more we learn how to draw strength from our Lord Jesus Christ, the higher our tolerance for pain and its challenges.  YES, this is where we can be blessed, learning tolerance under any circumstance.
    • It helps us focus on what is truly important:
Pain and suffering teach us that although we experience them at many different levels, our Lord is giving us a tremendous opportunity to recommit ourselves to our walk with Him and to know the value of such a walk.  There is victory in all this.  It boils down to our perspective.  The choice is ours as to whether we are going to allow ourselves to refocus on what is truly important, the healing. It is then that we must remember that this world with all its suffering and ugliness is not our home. We are pilgrims and sojourners. We await something better, heaven (I Peter 2:11; Hebrews 13:14). The Word of God is crystal clear on this. We long for our home in heaven and the new body that will never have to suffer or die again. Such beautiful and comforting promises!!

Without suffering, who would want to leave this our temporary tabernacle? Who would desire heaven as our eternal home? Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to go there. Yes, suffering keeps this world from becoming too attractive to us.
    • It strengthens our character:
Our faith is always stretched to the limits. So what do you do when troubles, trials, and tribulations come your way? Consider James' exhortation:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3).
It is so much easier when one is in pain and suffering to give up and run away.  Losing our faith is easy.  But it is here that we have to rely on our Lord Jesus to carry us through our clouds and challenges.  It is here that our character is strengthened.
    • It deepens our Faith:
When we find ourselves amid any kind of pain, it is then that we must force ourselves to open our Bibles, sing songs of praise, and pray fervently.  It is in doing all these that we find rest for our souls, and we start trusting God, trusting in His promises that He will be with us and that He will provide for our needs.  It is here that we need to believe in Him and go back to Him.  To wait on Him. This is an excellent gain, great victory.  It is the highest prize.
    • It purifies us:
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).
“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zechariah 13:9).
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3).

We are all aware of Job's fiery trials and that he was put through the fire of such trials but remained faithful, trusting, and hoping in God.  He humbly recognized and accepted that all of his trials had a purpose.  Job did not give up even when his wife rejected him, and his friends discouraged him. He did not give up even in the greatest weaknesses!  He knew well this furnace of affliction would be good for him.  He was aware that he was going to be refined as pure gold after he had been tested and tried by the fire.   We need to have Job's attitude of heart.  
"But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold"  (Job 23:10).  

Like Job, we all go through our valleys of trials, tears, sorrows, and afflictions.  We must trust in God and the beautiful work our God is doing in us.  It is all for our good!!

God has told us that He will take us through the fire so that we might be refined like silver.  He does this to purify us like gold!  He, being the Creator of these precious metals, knows well that such metals must be heated to very high temperatures before they can be molded and shaped.  He also knows that the heart of man is stubborn and hard to change. Yet, as a loving Father, He desires to guide us through that fire so that we may be modified.  In like manner, the goldsmith or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on fire. Our loving God sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. Remember that our God has His eye on us and will keep watching over us until He sees His image in us (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Thank God for the furnace!
    • It teaches us compassion:
Is it not something that the people who have suffered the most are usually the most compassionate ones?  The more struggles, sufferings, and challenges a person has had to endure, the more efficient they become in being compassionate toward others.  The more they uplift, encourage and help those who are struggling.  They seem to have a heart for others and feel their pain.
    • It makes us supportive:
Pain teaches us to support those who need relief from their pain and suffering. Compassion is the fruit of pain, and it is manifested when we lift up and help those in pain.
    • It gives us understanding:
It is a fact that no one can understand pain better than someone who has already been through it. Understanding is such a great blessing to those who struggle with either chronic illness, invisible illness, or any other source of pain, spiritual or emotional.  This understanding of those who are struggling with pain is priceless.
    • It makes us good servants:
Pain teaches us to be more compassionate, supportive, and understanding in helping others bear their pain.  Those who have gone through pain have learned to be hospitable and attentive servants even when they are in pain.  They bestow blessings upon others who are suffering and struggling with life's toil, difficulties, and storms.
    • It helps us to be more sympathetic toward others:
Pain and suffering teach us to say the right words in a spirit of sympathy, which is so necessary for those who are struggling and suffering because of pain. It is when we've been through pain and suffering that we can sympathize and understand others' hurts. When one has experienced pain, it makes him more likely to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Moreover, it enables us better to comfort others when they are suffering. Personally, I did not know this until I experienced the loss of a loved one, my mother.
    • It teaches us empathy:
Empathy is a more robust support than sympathy.  It is a blessing to have someone who has been through the exact struggle you have been through, who can share with you and help you to understand. It is more than a blessing.  It is a blessing to be a blessing to others.  To return blessings for blessings.
    • It teaches us to appreciate and be more grateful:
Pain and suffering teach us to appreciate the little things.  There is so much joy in seeing God's beauty amid our suffering.  It is this appreciation for God's beauty that gives us hope and more hope.  We are learning to be grateful to God and grateful to others for their help in getting us through the tough times.  We learn the depths of sorrow.  Managing to be grateful helps us to find joy even during much pain and suffering.
    • Pain teaches us to be warriors:  
It deepens our faith and strengthens our character.  It draws us closer to God with hope and joy.  Pain teaches us perseverance, tolerance, and longsuffering, which are necessary to the victory of our walk as Christians.
    • It helps to appreciate and pay more attention to what really matters: 
I have learned some good lessons through pain and failure. Isn't it something, that so many times we don’t learn the value of something until we lose it! “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Suffering helps us change our ways. It gets our attention like nothing else! (Psalm 119:71). “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30).


II.   GOD'S PROVISION IN OUR SUFFERINGS:
“2 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
  • Dark Valleys:
Our Father in heaven knows well when we are going to need His strength and provision. He will supply the strength we so desperately need, just in time. David acknowledged that though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4). He knew what it was like to be in the dark valley of mourning. For many of us, the darkest valley of all is the one we dread the most to cross. David describes this valley as one of deep darkness. It speaks of our dark experiences in life.

In Psalm 23, David speaks of his world as not being ideal, but rather one full of dark valleys (verse 4); with the presence of evil enemies (verse 5). David did not feel safe in this environment. He feels marred spiritually scarred and in danger. And although he had struggled through many difficulties, he still remained faithful and confident that God was going to be with him in the many shadows of darkness. David applied the Word of God in his own life. Did you know the words “The LORD is my Shepherd were spoken by Jacob first? Toward the end of his life, Jacob gives his patriarchal blessing to Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, saying:
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,  the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:15-16).

Indeed, Jacob was a man who walked through many dark valleys, both morally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He was brought up in a family where there was favoritism (Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob more Genesis 25:28). He likewise had plotted with his mother to cheat his foolish brother Esau of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). He deceived his father (Genesis 27). In a similar twist, he found himself betrayed by his uncle, Laban. He found himself married to the wrong woman, Leah, rather than Rachel, the one he loved (Genesis 29:15-30). David had known fear and loneliness, but God's grace met him at Jabbok, where he wrestled with Him and whom God fashioned and modeled into a great man, a prince (Gen. 32:22-32; Hos. 12:4).

Though God had fashioned Jacob into a great man when He was broken, Jacob still made mistakes later in his life. Mistakes he apparently imitated from his own parents: “ Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors” (Genesis 37:3).

Jacob had struggled with God and with men (Genesis 32:28). But toward the end of his life, Jacob could look back and rejoice that His Jehovah God had been his Shepherd, seeking him like a lost sheep, rescuing him, healing him and providing for him. This is beautiful beyond words!!

Like Jacob, David shared the same experiences. He too wandered in the darkness. He also discovered that “the LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” And that His God had been with him and was still with him. David acknowledged that God shepherded him through the darkest valleys of his life with His presence and strength and that all was sufficient to keep him strong and firm. God's presence and power can free us from our fears: “for you are with me;  your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Such precious words of comfort! Our Shepherd uses the staff of His hand to work with us His sheep. He directs, retrieves, and disciplines us. His rod or cudgel hangs from His belt and is ready to defend us when the enemy attacks. We, the sheep, look on these things to remind ourselves that the Shepherd will protect us well.

David experienced God's presence in his life as He shepherded, protected, and saved him. Yet David's view of God cannot compare with the revelation of the Lord as our Shepherd:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will,working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

III.   GOD'S PROMISES WILL SUSTAIN US:
    God’s children live by the promises He has made to us.  Promises that will sustain us when life does not make sense.  We have the assurance of  His presence.  God has never promised us a life free of problems or a bed of roses.  But He did promise us that He will be with us His children (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5; Psalm 46:5-7). God was with David in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). He was with the three Hebrew men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) and with Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6).  God sent an angel to the garden to strengthen Jesus (Luke 22:43). God is not a disinterested spectator in our lives. He is neither distant nor disengaged. He does care (1 Peter 5:7). Even when we are afraid, through faith, we can sing, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, safe and secure from all alarms.” 

    Our God in His infinite loving kindness has given us the assurance of His peace (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-21; Ephesians 2:12-14; 1 Peter 5:14).  The assurance of  His providence (Romans 8:28).   So rather than asking, “Where is God?” or “Why me?” why not ask, “What can I learn from this?” and “Who can I help because of this?” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Life’s problems and sufferings are not easy, but they qualify us to serve in ways we never could otherwise.   


    CONCLUSION:

    Times of crisis prove our friendship with God and declare the authenticity of our faith. Do we love God because He provides gifts? Do we love those gifts more than we love the Giver? This was the accusation Satan made against Job (Job 1:8-12; cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9). All the things we cling to in this world will eventually disappear.  But the One, who gives them all to us, is the One that will ultimately remain. 

    We must learn to seek strength, peace, and rest in Him and His promises.  Even as our souls are wrestling with pain and hurt deep inside.  Our merciful God is the only One who can meet our deepest needs.  In His Word, He has taught us through His promises to trust Him.  He will nurture us if we trust Him through each of life’s trials.  He is our place of shelter and safety.  He will carry us with loving and tender care in our times of fear and sorrow. I assure you of that!  (Psalm 46).  Our God shelters us like the wings of care and protection of a protective mother bird.  In our times of trouble and sorrow, our merciful and loving God spreads His wings to guard His children so that no harm will overtake them (Psalm 57:1; 91:4; 91:10; Matthew 23:37). 

    As children of God, we must sink the teeth of our faith into God's faithfulness when we are undergoing trials, pain, and suffering. He is utterly faithful to His promises (Hebrews 6:17-20). Our hope, even amid intense suffering, is in our Lord’s ceaseless loving kindness. In His never-failing ways, there is new compassion. 

    We have a cloud of witnesses who had to endure a tsunami of insults, hardships, sufferings, persecutions, and calamities (distresses, difficulties, troubles) and yet remained faithful and rejoiced while they suffered. We have the example of the apostles who had to suffer significantly but were thrilled that they were able to suffer for doing what was right! They were thrilled to be able to endure hardship for the cause of Christ. What an example of true faith and love for the Lord! An excellent attitude to have and worthy of our imitation. True faith does not cower in fear or fall apart when challenged and attacked. It maintains a joyful attitude and continues doing what is right and good regardless of our circumstances. It requires a pleasant disposition. Suffering and pain did not deter them. They continued sharing the Gospel of Christ both publicly and privately.

    When life is difficult and filled with pain, let us resolve in our heart not to quit or go any other way than God's ways. Even when it hurts deeply. Can your faith remain steadfast and unyielding? What better way to refresh our frame of mind or attitude and strength than to go to Gethsemane and Calvary, as portrayed in Matthew 26 & 27? Those events unfolded almost 2,000 years ago. Our Lord and Savior suffered enormously and voluntarily on our behalf. He agonized in the garden as His hour was approaching. Not wanting to die but knowing it was His Father's will for mankind to be redeemed by His shed blood at Calvary. Therefore, let us strengthen our weak hearts and run with endurance the race that is set before us.
    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

    May we find hope, joy, and healing in Him alone. May we turn our afflictions into mercies, and darkness into light. May we all come to our place of refuge, strength, and defense, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And may we find contentment and joy, acting out our faith in all the pains and sufferings that Jesus our Lord suffered.

    Luci

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