Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tests

Some mornings you just wake up a mess. You start out the day with your emotions getting the best of you, and you struggle to even know why you're feeling the way you do. That was how this morning began for me. Hormones were high! I hadn't even gotten out of bed yet, and there had been no time for anything to go wrong. I just knew I was messed up today and couldn't fix it myself. Jonah had spent the night with my parents last night, so I was able to have a couple hours this morning to myself before going to pick him up. And while I had lofty goals of folding the giant laundry mountain on my living room floor and ironing some clothes, I realized right away that time in the Word wasn't going to be able to wait until the usual afternoon time (Jonah's nap) that's set aside for it. I might have killed someone by then. =)

And what a wonderful time it was with the Lord. I decided to take a look at part of the passage we studied in our Bible study class on Sunday morning. The class started going through the book of James, and I spent some time this morning thinking about several particular verses:

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

That passage. The one that sounds all nice and pretty until the moment you find yourself in the middle of a trial! I confess that I have before resented the truth of Scriptures such as these. The last thing I wanted to do was embrace the challenge of "counting it joy." But this is something that I'm learning to do. Still learning. Still have a lot to learn. But very grateful for what has been learned too. It's always good for me to review God's truths about trials, suffering, etc., and doing that today was time well spent.

Jim, the man teaching our class, asked us on Sunday if we ever really know anything that has not been tested. We talked about how all of the things that we confidently claim to know have gone through some sort of testing process. So the testing James is talking about in verse three is really what God gives so that we can know what our faith really is made of. Peter says the same kind of thing in 1 Peter 1:6-7. But there's more: knowing our faith can stand the test will help us in living steadfastly, it says. What do I know about my faith? Inevitably, answering that question involves a looking back to past trials in my life, a remembrance of lessons learned from them. Do I celebrate those? How do I handle them? Maybe when I'm in a trial (and not just after it's done), the question I should be asking is, "What do I know about my faith?" or better said "God, what are you wanting to prove to me?" By all means, we should be inviting Him to prove it to us! It's the only path towards completeness.

Isn't completeness what we long for? We want all of the pieces in the puzzle. It gets so old...feeling like we're lacking. But lacking is the nature of our existence on earth. God does have another way though. And its reached through steadfastness, which comes from the knowledge of having my faith tested. Why do I overlook His way?! His ways are always good.

What does it mean to be steadfast? In the Greek text, the word "hupomone" is used here and refers to endurance and constancy. But many scholars who are familiar with the Greek language say that its definition is so much broader than what our English language can describe. I found that it means that one is making a persistent effort in enduring, "actively straining against some pressure" (the pressure of trials, that is), says Spiros Zodhiates. William Barclay wrote that hupomone is "the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal."

A new question I'm learning to ask when looking at Scripture is this: If a passage is talking about a virtue that should be developed in my life, where do I see that virtue expressed in the person and character of God? Holiness always originates in the heart of God, so it's important to look there. Without Him being holy, I couldn't be, nor would I even want to be. And as I pause to consider that, I see God's "hupomone" all over the place! The way He's endured man's sinfulness rather than obliterate our existence reveals some major steadfastness! But in many other ways, I see His unconditional love and grace that He so kindly offers me on a daily basis, and it shows that He's serious about His character being constant. How amazing He is.

And then I remember the part about joy. It struck me in class on Sunday how much trials are opportunities to have joy produced in my life. Joy in trials. What is joy about? Why does it matter so much to God? I think it has little to do with me. Sometimes it comforts me. Definitely. But sometimes it doesn't. I don't think God designed it just to be about me and my comfort and enjoyment anyway. The end goal of all He does is His own glory. I'm just realizing that I often look for joy and strive to cultivate it mainly because it makes me feel better about a situation. It's unbelievable how we can take some of God's sweetest gifts and in our humanity twist them into something they weren't intended to be: about us. Now, I appreciate the comfort God gives. He is so kind to allow us to experience peace and joy and compassion when we are going through a trial. I, for one, am tremendously grateful for how He has done that in my own life! I don't want to discount that amazing part of His nature. I'm just talking about motives. Do I strive to be joyful because I want Him represented well? Because I want His name known to more people? Because I want His glory shining through my life in such a compelling way that others want to know more of Him? I know that ultimately that's what joy is really about. That's where I want Him to take me. The place He says in Isaiah 61:3 that He wants to take us - "to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified."

2 comments:

Marci H said...

Great post Hannah! The only way to look at trials in our lives is to think about how we can glorify our Master through them. I do catechism questions at home with the girls and I love the very first one the most and say it often to my children- - -"Man's primary purpose is to glorify GOD!!" This is our mission and this is the mission I try to inspire my children to have.

If we are joyful through trials, we are noticed, because that is NOT normal- - - so why are we different??? It's all about Him and this is how we glorify God through trials!!

Kate said...

Love this post! It inspired me to spend some time on this passage today. Thanks for sharing.