I have several reasons to be happy today. First, we had our annual congregational meeting at Ebenezer, and I find that I am still the pastor there. Actually, that had already been decided, but it was nice to know that the rest of the congregation agreed with the board! Second, my team won the divisional playoffs and the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl! You can take the girl out of the city, but you just can’t take the city (of Pittsburgh) out of the girl. I was sweating it earlier in the day because a few people in the congregation are Chicago Bears fans, and if the Steelers played the Bears in the Super Bowl, that would make things a little bit tense around here! Well, maybe not. You all know I am kidding, I hope.
There are many more reasons to be thankful today, and I promise I won’t go through all of them. Suffice it to say that between the snow and rain, clouds and sunshine, and everything in between, the joy that I feel has more than enough challenges for first place. When I hear about a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, or another who has lost a loved one to cancer or some other disease, or of someone else struggling financially, I realize that my grumbling and complaining about my problems is often misplaced. You see, no matter how bad my day, my life, my circumstances, there is always someone who has it harder. That thought kind of evens out my wavering faith and brings me back to that deep-settled joy that comes from my relationship with Christ.
What is attacking your joy today? Is your faith and hope being tested? I’m reminded of James’ instruction: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
At times I consider James’ words a blessing, a reminder to keep my eyes on the FINAL prize. But at other times, when I am r-e-a-l-l-y being tested, I just want to shout out, “I’m tired of tests, of being tried, of being God’s object lesson!” When things are going well, I’m more than willing to consider my trials with joy, but when life seems to be spiraling downward, whether because of illness, finances, problems with others, whatever the case may be, the ability to consider those trials pure joy, to consider that God has a purpose for everything, makes it a bit harder to swallow.
James continued, “. . . 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.” Perfect and mature, who wouldn’t like that description! Yet the road that takes me there often gives me pause because there is that “get over it” word: “perseverance.” Anything with the word “severe” in the middle has to be tough!
The Psalmist understood this conundrum. In the 42nd psalm David recounts his pain, the feeling of being separated from God in all of it. But rather than sit and mourn, whine and complain, he recounts God’s presence with him. He remembers that truth and the ensuing joy that held him up. David asks himself, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” This simple exercise of faith, of memory, brings hope to David once again.
As we face our tests and trials with faith tempering our frustration, with joy minimizing our anger, we will find that we are better able to handle each matter that comes along. We can persevere through the situation when we realize, once again, that this problem is only momentary, especially as compared with eternity.
So, instead of spending all of your energy recounting the problems and disappointment in life, go on an expedition. Seek out the victories, the moments of strength and grace that you have known. Write them down if you need to. Then, remind yourself that this life is just a moment compared to the eternity you will spend with God. You are not alone. God IS with you and wants to make you “perfect and mature.” Fall into the strong hands of God, no matter what your situation today; He will hold you and carry you through molding you into “something beautiful, something good. All my confusion He understood. All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful out of my life (Gaither, 1971).”
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church