BY JORDAN MAYER
"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."
Growing up, this verse was always one that confused me. Joy and trials in the same sentence together seemed like a contradiction in terms. It sounded like rose-colored glasses, glass half full, ever-the-optimist kind of thinking. It was one of those things that you read in the Bible, so you know that it's true, but have difficulty putting into practice.
However, as I've gotten a bit more life experience under my belt, this verse has started to make a little more sense. What once seemed like some call to false optimism is really a powerful call to joyful purpose. Purpose is a powerful tool for perspective. It takes the meaningless bad and makes it intentionally good. How much joy do you think can be experienced in believing that the trials in our life are meaningless? That they don't happen for any particular reason and are simply a random occurrence in an insignificant existence. Pretty depressing, huh?
As believers, there is joy to be experienced in knowing that trials do, indeed, have a purpose. They are placed in our lives for the specific reason of testing our faith over a period of time to make us perfect and complete. That sounds much better than the former.
For me, it is a source of great comfort that the trials I find myself in are not meant to break my faith, they're meant to build it up. And, ultimately, they are allowed by a Good Father who loves me and works all things for my good (Romans 8:28). Look at Joseph. He was sold as a slave by his brothers and suffered hardship in Egypt, despite always being faithful. And yet, what does he say to his brothers at the end of it all? You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).
But enduring trials is not for the faint of heart! It is a messy battlefield where we must fight for every inch of ground. It's the time when we simply place one foot in front of the other. It's about getting through each day. Every second, every minute, and every hour until we come out the other side. Joseph still put in long hours as a slave. He endured uncomfortable nights in prison. He lived in a foreign land away from his home and family. The very nature of trials is that we have to go through them.
But, having joy in trials is not about putting on a "happy face" or denying the very real thoughts, feelings, and emotions we may be experiencing. You just have to read through a few of the Psalms to know that that is not the case. Instead, it's about leaning into the struggle, or more precisely, leaning into God. Trials have a habit of stripping away all the "fluff" in our lives and drawing us back to God. They bring a level of clarity that few other events in our life can match. They remind us that God is all we need, that He is all we will ever need. He is our strength, our refuge, our fortress, our strong tower, our shield, and the horn of our salvation. He is the rock on which we stand. He is our provider and protector. He goes before and He walks behind. He is there in the beginning and He is with us in the end. Infinitely loving and endlessly good.
That, my friends, is where joy is to be had. Not in the circumstances we find ourselves in, but in the God who is right there with us. For the building up of our faith and the deepening of our trust in Him.
BY MARTHA CHEVALIER
"And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'”
(Mark 1:11 NRSV)
Knowing and experiencing our own belovedness is one of life’s most arduous as well as essential journeys. The genesis of real life must flow out of this one reality. Anything short of that, over time, ends up being a dry riverbed, an empty hollow cistern. Jesus had his Father's affirmation, solid and sure.
I wonder, did hearing the Father's voice produce something weighty in Jesus, preparing him for what lay imminently ahead? Did hearing the Father’s delight prepare and sustain him in the crucible of the Sinai desert, empowering him to overcome real and pressing temptation? I imagine that he heard the Father's words of love echoing in his quiet solitary hours of prayer. Could this be the bread Jesus referred to when He spoke of “food to eat that you know not of?” (John 4:32).
His Father expressed supreme delight in his Son, even before a single miracle was performed. How much of our lives are spent seeking the approval of others? How many common idols do we bow to seeking solace from our weary, anxious, and troubled souls? If only we would quickly default to a run, leaping or whimpering, toward our Father’s all-out embrace.
Do you think Jesus needed to hear his Father's voice of love and approval? We all desperately need to hear it, don't we? And if we aren't hearing it from Abba Father, we’ll doubtless be seeking it from other places. We might seek to hear it from our own efforts to ‘do good’ and to ‘be good.’ I'm so glad we don't have to earn the approval of God. Remember the flower game: he loves me, he loves me not? Maybe the next time you find yourself in a field of flowers, try this new version of the game… He loves me, He loves me, He really loves me! And He likes me, woe.
In the wildly extravagant mercy of Jesus Christ, we gain access to our Father's throne and good grace. And when we slip and fall, as we surely do, or make mistakes, or try to earn approval, or even seek to prove our worth with frantic self-effort, next time, take pause and remember the words uttered above: “You are my beloved, in whom I take delight.” One of God’s names is Emanuel, God with us. Sometimes so hard to believe, He WANTS to be with us. If His eye is on the sparrow, it’s certainly upon you and me.
“The Lord your God is among you; He is mighty to save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
iBY JORDAN MAYER
"If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
This is the kind of verse that makes my head hurt. Not because this verse is overly mysterious or confusing, actually it's quite clear. My difficulty lies in trying to wrap my finite, human mind around the immense and far-reaching implications of this verse.
One of the sweet pleasures of reading the Word is that we can never plumb the depths of its truth and goodness. We can continue to lower our bucket down into the well of His Word and pull it up full. This is how I see this verse in Romans 8. The more time spent meditating on it, the deeper these truths settle into the heart.
It's hard to expound any more on what Paul has so clearly laid out, so perhaps we just need to sit in this truth for a moment. First, that it was the work of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave. Here was the the Son of God. A battered and bloodied body, wrapped in cloth, and laid in a tomb. Satan seemingly prevailed. Death appeared to have had the last say. And yet, after three days, the tomb was gloriously empty! By the power of the Spirit, Jesus conquered the grave and rose to life again. And while that fact is amazing and miraculous on its own, the verse does not end there. The same Spirit that accomplished this work is the same Spirit that lives inside of us. And the same power that raised up Jesus is the same power that raises us up.
But I'll be honest, as I meditate on this verse, I can't help but cry out to God to forgive my puny faith. Like the father of the mute son, I say, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). My human mind is so accustomed to boundaries and limitations that I am prone to impose them on the Spirit. I have to ask myself, do I live like I have that power inside of me? This verse is a reminder of the extent of that power. It is resurrection power. "So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) Just as the Spirit raised Jesus, I have been raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). This old self, this body of death, this sinful flesh...it's made new.
Whatever I may be facing in life, even the daily battle with my own sinful flesh, it is no match for the power of the Spirit. The Spirit empowers me to live this life, but it is also the promise of hope for something better (Ephesians 1:14). So many of the earthly realities we experience now find their ultimate fulfillment in heavenly ones.
"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must point on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:52-57).
On this blessed Resurrection day, we celebrate life from death, hope from despair, and victory from defeat.
BY JORDAN MAYER
"When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul."
As part of my daily Bible reading plan, I read through one Psalm every morning. While it's often difficult to answer the "what's your favorite book of the Bible?" question, the book of Psalms would definitely make the short list. I love the beautiful structure of the poetry and the vivid imagery the authors use to express their thoughts. The Psalms span a wide range of situations and emotions, and I have found there to be a Psalm for every season. Psalms of praise. Psalms of lament. Psalms of thanksgiving. Psalms of wisdom. I have yet to find a circumstance in life where I have failed to find encouragement in the pages of this book in Scripture.
Under the crushing weight of my sin, I have prayed the words of Psalm 51 more times than I can count. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (v. 10).
When depression has hung over me like a dark cloud, I have preached the words of Psalm 42 to myself. "Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (v. 5)
When I am paralyzed by fear and anxiety, I quote Psalm 56 in my head. "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise. In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?" (v. 3-4).
When I feel tempted by the allure of sin, I remember Psalm 16. "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (v. 9, emphasis added).
As I read through Psalm 94, verse 19 became the latest addition to my arsenal. What a precious verse to repeat.
I may not know what your cares are, just like you may not know mine - although we are encouraged to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). While our cares may vary from one to the next, the remedy remains the same. The source of comfort, of consolation, remains the same.
In Psalm 94, the author addresses God directly and declares, "your consolations cheer my soul". What are his consolations? The author names them in the chapter. The Lord is a just judge (v. 1-2). The Lord hears all and sees all (v. 9). The Lord does not forsake His people (v. 14). The Lord is our help (v. 17). The Lord's steadfast love holds us up (v. 18). The Lord is our stronghold and rock of refuge (v. 22).
In Luke 2:25, we read that Simeon was waiting for the "consolation of Israel". What was his consolation? Directed by the Holy Spirit to the temple, He sees the Consolation of Israel before his very eyes, the "salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2: 30-32). He sees Jesus!
When my cares lie heavy on my heart, here are a few of my consolations:
"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him'" (Lamentations 3:21-24).
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
God is our great consolation. He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), and near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). So what does He ask of us?
Simply to come (Matthew 11:28). Cast your cares (1 Peter 5:7). Lay down your burdens (Psalm 55:22). Pour out your heart (Psalm 62:8).
Find rest, peace, and comfort in His presence today.