BY JORDAN MAYER
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
I was listening to a podcast recently that was discussing idolatry and the many ways we attempt to satisfy our souls. The human heart is sadly efficient at crafting idols. As John Calvin puts it, our hearts are idol factories! We may scoff at the golden calves and the statues of old, but we, too, form our own household gods. While they may not be as obvious, at their core they are the same. They are the things that command the attention of our hearts. Money, sex, and power get much of the spotlight in books, but what about the more subtle gods of leisure, convenience, security, balance, or health?
I think one of the tricky things with idols is the fact that they are often really good things! Time away from work to relax and unwind is a good thing! Free two-day shipping is a good thing! Feeling safe and at peace is a good thing! Keeping healthy boundaries between work and personal life is a good thing! Being healthy is a good thing! The problem is not in the thing itself. The problem is when we make a good thing into the main thing.
When this happens, these once good things become bad things. They get twisted and distorted in our attempt to be satisfied by them. Try as we might, we end up frustrated and disappointed. It turns out that these are all extremely poor substitutes for God. They were never designed to fill the God-sized void in our hearts. Instead, they become the itch that we cannot scratch or, as Solomon puts it, vanity of vanities and a striving after wind. If anyone could find pleasure or meaning outside of God, it would have been Solomon. Although he withheld no desire from his eyes, it still could not satisfy (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).
But, when we place our satisfaction in God himself, these "things of earth" fall into their proper place. Desires are transformed, time is redeemed, and the things we pursue take on an even deeper meaning and value than they ever did before.
There is a wonderfully insightful quote from C.S. Lewis in which he says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
We mustn't settle for gifts and miss out on the Giver. Rather, we should allow these gifts to draw us to the One who gives them. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
We rejoice in His gifts, but we are satisfied in His presence.
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.