Some of you might have noticed that blogging has been awfully light here at Route 5:9 recently. That’s because our staff was away on a retreat last week (and this week was taken up with having a number of visitors in town, plus catching up from last week). During our retreat, we had a really refreshing time of fellowship, an enlightening overview of some of our key strategies, and an exciting teambuilding “Peacemaking Race,” but the highlight for many people was the morning of teaching that a local pastor shared.
That’s what I want to take a few minutes here to focus on, both to remind myself of his great words, and also to give you the opportunity to have a window into how the Lord encouraged us — through Pastor Stacy Gaylord — last week.
Stacy based his teaching out of James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I’m not sure that I would have intuitively thought of this passage as an ideal passage for teaching on “Rest,” but Stacy really hit the nail on the head. After all, any burden that inhibits us from resting in the Lord is a “testing of our faith.” So what’s a test of faith? It can come in many forms, but ultimately, it’s something that reveals what our faith is in. Stacy defined a “test of faith” as “whatever tends to lure you toward a hope other than Jesus.” In other words, in moments of temptation/testing, we will always be declaring our loyalty … to Jesus or to something else.
One angle I’ve never thought about before was that, at the heart of James’ exhortation to his readers is the fact that circumstances were not going to get better … he doesn’t offer them hope based on their circumstances changing. I tend to default to offering people hope based on changing of circumstances, but James doesn’t go there; the hope he offers is rooted in eternity.
A few facts about “The Christian’s Burdens” that Stacy pulled out of James 1:
- The Christian’s burdens are inescapable. American pragmatism tends to say, “You can fix this,” but the fact is, we WILL encounter trials of many kinds. James isn’t writing to an unfortunate few; he’s writing to all of us.
- The Christian’s burdens are in many forms. The hope and promise that we find in God’s Word applies to the wide array of challenges that we face throughout our lives.
- The Christian’s burdens are purposeful. Scripture has testimony after testimony of God turning trials to good — I think of Joseph, for one. The ultimate example of God using an evil event for good is, of course, the cross. When we believe in the power of the cross, we will come to believe that God can and will work bad for good, even when we don’t have the opportunity to “connect the dots” on this side of eternity. If you treasure the truth that God works evil for good, and you treasure the things that God calls “good,” this passage is full of promise.
- The Christian’s burdens are temporary. By the grace of God, you don’t have one problem that is permanent. Even though particular trials can feel like they stretch on forever, and that testing can be exhausting (which is how we develop that perseverance of which James speaks), it’s so encouraging to know that they are, from an eternal perspective, actually quite short-lived.
After describing these four aspects of the Christian’s burdens, Stacy pointed out that how we respond matters. James says, “Consider it pure joy…” or other versions like the ESV say “Count it all joy…” A few points about counting our burdens as joy:
- Casting our burdens on the Lord isn’t an automatic, magical process. We tend to think that casting our burdens on the Lord is a one-time event — we pray and are relieved of our burdens (or at least we should be!). But counting it joy is an ongoing process, where we go to the Lord again and again with our concerns. Stacy also pointed out that we need to give the Lord equal air time — in other words, when we’re really under fire, a few minutes in the Word and prayer every day aren’t going to cut it. We’ll be battered by our tests all day long; we need to be spending ample time hearing the rock-solid, life-giving, eternal truth of God.
- Burden-bearing is seldom a solo problem in the Christian life. Don’t even try to do it on your own; seek others who will “fulfill the law of Christ” and share your burdens with them. Stacy and I were chatting informally over one of our breaks, and we both agreed that this is one of the most neglected aspects of the Christian life in the American church today. We do a poor job of bearing one anothers’ burdens, both because we’re too busy managing our own lives, and because we’re too proud to be vulnerable about where we are struggling.
- “Counting it joy” is like a matter of accounting. If you are familiar with accounting, there are debit and credit sides of a ledger. Every burden or test that comes in is on the debit side of the ledger — it costs something. You have to actively put it on the credit side by valuing what you receive more than what you lost. Doing this is such an act of faith; as Stacy said, “You have to actually trust God to pull that one off!” And it’s a determined act of faith that says, “I will not waste it: I will learn, submit, trust and know that God’s hand sustains me.”
I hope there’s something in here that’s encouraging to you … as I’m looking back over my notes, I’m seeing a variety of ways to apply things that I’d already forgotten! (oh, how quick we are to forget the powerful reality of God’s grace in our lives.) What do you think? Does James 1:2-4 apply to burdens that you might be bearing today? Can you “count it all joy”?