Heart Strings Pt 4: Count It All Joy
Pastor Don Prewitt
I stood at the vending machine irate. More than annoyed. More than mad. More than angry. Irate. A person can sometimes have responses out of proportion to the wrong they are experiencing. And like a compass pointing to truth north, this sense of irritation pointed somewhere. Somewhere, I didn’t want to explore.
I wanted those cute little raisins with delicious, dark and soul-warming chocolate drenched individually on every one of them. So I did what was required. I followed the rules. I put in the required money. I pushed the right button. Only what I got wasn’t at all what I wanted. Something had gone wrong. Instead of those beautiful little raisins with the cute name “Raisinette” I got a Diet Coke. A diet Coke? Who in their right mind drinks diet Coke unless they are sick or need to lose some weight? I wanted those raisins…I clenched my fists and bit my lip. And I knew. My out of proportion response wasn’t really about a soda.
It was about being disillusioned, being disillusioned by life. It was about my feeling that if you did all the right things, you would get all the right results. You do what’s expected of you and you’ll get what you expect. Put in the money. Push the button. Get the tiny little raisins. Push the button and get the family and the life and the finances and the perfect life with perfect friends and a perfect family. But sometimes you get the unexpected.
The UNEXPECTED in our lives can really get us off kilter. Our response to the unexpected in our lives can either hurt or bring life to those around us, especially those who are the very closest to us. They can leave us angry or bitter. And when faced with the unexpected we can draw conclusions that are not accurate or healing about God, others, and ourselves.
Today we want to explore a very common passage of scripture that many of us know, but we all need to be reminded of. As we read it and get better understanding of what James is trying to tell us I want you to begin to think of the unexpected in your own lives. Turn in your Bibles to James 1:1-4.
We should first note that James was the half brother of Jesus. He didn’t believe in Jesus during Jesus’ time here on earth. And as a good brother often does, at least one time the scriptures tell us that James mocked Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah. Yet James starts out his book with a very trusting statement re: Jesus. Somewhere along the line James got who Jesus was and began to trust him so much that he could write the following words. Lets read it together.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have it’s perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:1-4.
1. COUNT IT (or consider) ALL JOY When you fall into various trials (or temptations)
First James wasn’t saying this to non-followers of Jesus or he wouldn’t have started his book with “My Brethren”. James was talking to those who already know Christ and are walking with him. This is very important to remember as we continue to try and understand these opening lines of the book of James.
The Greek word for the phrase “Count it all joy” is a word that means: to add up the facts and come to a conclusion.
This is so important for us to get. Instead of just letting life happen and letting the unexpected take us over James is asking that we think through the things that we go through. We may never get why things happen; this isn’t the point. The point is that we allow whatever we are going through to help us come to the conclusion that it can and will be used for our benefit if we respond correctly.
The ways that we tend to respond to the unexpected:
- We blame and question God
- We respond in sinful anger
- We blame ourselves
- We draw lines to others or other events that have nothing to do with the situation we are going through
This happened a few months ago for me. I had gotten a $200 dollar ticket for not stopping completely at a stop sign. I kept wondering why the check wasn’t going through. One day I was looking through my bill box and found the $200 check in the bottom of my box, in a sealed envelope that never got mailed. So I called the court to find out that they had tacked on $300 more dollars. This was truly an unexpected moment for me! As I was walking up to the courthouse a friend, who is in recovery, sent me a quote about resentment. I quickly text back and told him that I was so thankful that I didn’t have to deal with a lot of resentment. Walking in I had to take my belt off and empty my pockets to go through the medal detector. The thing beeped in my ear like a fire-truck roaring down the road. He said it was my boots and I needed to take them off. I glared at him and he said it again “its your boots, take them off”. This didn’t set well with me for some reason and I gently took my boots off and then proceeded to throw them across the room into the bin. Immediately I felt like a fool as he proceeded to tell me what age my actions represented! The beep stopped, I walked through and went to stand in line to pay my ticket. As I stood there I began to “Count it all joy” as I thought through what I could learn from this and why it happened. After the bill was paid I had to walk out the door, all the way back around and into the medal detector and with tears in my eyes apologize to the man who flinched when he saw me coming! I let him know that my reaction had nothing to do with him. As I text back my friend and told him that I thought that I had found some resentment, I realized that I had drawn a line to this innocent man instead of where it really lied, with my unexpected $500 dollar ticket! It is NOT easy to think through the unexpected trials, temptations and frustrations in our lives but this is what James is asking of us all.
Now lets read that beginning phrase again and replace the words “count it all joy” with “feel”.
…”FEEL all joy when you fall into various trials…”
As followers of Jesus, God isn’t asking us to FEEL joyful when the unexpected comes our way, but to count it all joy: to add up the facts and come to the conclusion that God can use this to bring joy and character in our lives.
The opposite can be just as damaging to us, and those around us. Back to my Diet Coke story: if I got a Diet Coke instead of Raisinete’s and it really bugged me. I could have said “Oh praise God, everything is amazing and it must be Gods will that I got that Diet Coke, He is such a good God, Halleluiah, lets have communion with it right now”! Would that be the truth? No. The truth is that Diet Coke blindsided me. The point is to stop long enough to contemplate the facts of what God could and will do through every unexpected moment in my character if I allow Him to. I don’t have to lie about the situation.
So the very first thing that James is trying to tell us in this passage is to stop and look around for God in the unexpected. Never take the unexpected at face value. We don’t even have to take the unexpected personal. There are a few moments in my life that I can look back on and still feel the sting of pain that they produced in me. Accusations miss understanding of my motives, outright lies about me. And though they still can bring up emotion in me, they don’t have power over me because I chose to not hold those people captive in my own hurt or anger. But instead I tried my best to “count it all joy” adding up all the facts and coming to the conclusion that God can and would use those situations to dig deep into my own character and reshape it into what He wants. So instead of those situations holding me, they became tools in my life to better me.
What does it look like if we “count it all joy”?
~Honestly surrendering the unexpected to God, not having to prove your rightness, not having to have all the answers, not having to lash out at all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons, but simply surrendering it to God to allow Him to work that unexpected situation out for His glory and goodness in your life.
Easy to say…hard to live out.
So “COUNT IT ALL JOY”: add up all the facts and come to the right conclusion. Now lets look at the next small phrase in this verse.
“My brethren, count it all joy WHEN YOU FALL INTO VARIOUS TRIALS, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” -James 1:2-4
2. Count it all joy WHEN YOU FALL
This phrase “When you fall” is the same phrase we find in story Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan who helped the man who had been robbed and left to die on the road to Jericho.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and FELL AMONG the hands of robbers”. -Luke 10:30
Side by side, these two occasions of Greek terms are talking about the kind of “falling into” that takes us by surprise. Neither of them are talking about deliberately find jumping into a bad situation and “counting it all joy”. The Jewish man in Jesus’ story wasn’t LOOKING to be robbed; it took him by surprise.
James goes on to say
3. Count it all joy when you fall into VARIOUS trials
That word various actually means “Many colored”. In other words the trials of the unexpected will come in a variety of ways from people you don’t know, to people that you deeply love; from vending machines, to a broken down car. All can be used for the betterment of our character, when and if we surrender them to God to be used for a higher purpose than to simply irritate us. James IS NOT telling us to go find some trouble or sin or conflict just so that we can count it all joy!
What does it look like to NOT “count it all joy”?
It looks like pirates taking over a ship. Those “unexpected moments” will steal from our character. That word trial actually is linked to the term peirates. Take the e out of that phrase and it spells pirates. Not “counting it all joy”, or coming to the right conclusions, the unexpected will come on board and steal and kill us and our families and our relationships; leaving us bitter and stealing the reward intended for you and your character.
Consider the joy in your “unexpected”
- The “unexpected” that produces character in us is something that we fall into, not jump into.
- These trials are various or multi-colored and can be found at every turn of our lives
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, KNOWING THAT THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH PRODUCES PAITIENCE. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” -James 1:1-4
4. THIS TESTING OF YOUR FAITH WILL PRODUCE PATIENCE.
I don’t know about you, but I was NOT thinking “patience” standing in front of the vending machine waiting for my Raisinettes! And who really cares if we have more patience? Is patience really worth the “unexpected” we sometimes encounter? How sadistic is God to make us feel tension and pain just so that our patience and eventually our character can grow?
Maybe you are like a dear friend of mine who is an amazing writer. I recently stole a page from his typed out journal entry for February 4 of this year. This great writer had two words for that day…”Indescribable Pain”. All the words that could have been written, only two ended up in that entry. Sometimes the “unexpected is huge and full of a lot of “Indescribable pain”. And the last thing that we want to think about is growing our character in those moments.
Let me remind you that this word patience actually means “heroic endurance”. Lets look at it this way. We are in a race. There are rewards, good rewards that we will get if we complete this race. Around every turn there are unexpected runners who come up beside us, trying to trip us up, mess with our heads, trying to get us down. They push and pull at us, weighing our shoulders down and making the running even more difficult. It’s as if the unexpected events in our lives are like giant rubber bands that pull us toward the starting line while we are running toward the finish line. If we consider these things joy, allowing God to use them in our lives we will actually see that the tension in them has actually strengthened our legs and our resolve.
Bob, a trainer for Biggest Loser always says, "Don't lose sight of what you want! Don't lose sight of what you’re entitled to!" James echo’s this when he ends our passage saying “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
The pain and confusion of the “unexpected” in our lives can produce in us “heroic endurance”, much like the pain in training for a marathon. No one runs a marathon without feeling some pain and having to endure some “unexpected”.
Jillian, the other Biggest Losers trainer has been know to say, "Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going!!"
And if you keep going and surrender the unexpected to God, not allowing those moments to be pointed to a person but to be used as a tool in your own life. You will wake up one day and realize that the mile that was so difficult to run in the beginning has grown to 10 miles and then 30 miles.
And before you know it an impossible, unexpected moment will come your way and you will reply the way that David replied to Saul when he was told that he could not beat the giant Goliath because he was just a young man.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”-Samuel 17:33(NIV)
Like it or not, the unexpected in our lives can either be tools to rob us of the reward at the end of the race, or be distractions full of bitterness, resentment, fear, anger and broken relationships around us. The choice really is ours to make, one “unexpected moment” at a time. My friends, what will you choose today?