The book of James is straight talking. I love it because I’m pretty straight talking too but I have to confess that I find myself so challenged by the things that it says. Sometimes so challenged that I skip over the details because it is such a challenge that it seems out of reach or even irrelevant.
It is not irrelevant.
It just feels that way because I am not spiritually mature enough to understand it. Take James 1:2-4,the very opening verses of the book. I have looked at these verses before in Ouch! That was uncomfortable but the uncomfortable-ness of these words still remains. I haven’t got it yet!
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind consider it joy because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have it’s full effect so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Consider it joy?!!! JOY?!! Some translations actually say ‘pure joy’.
Everything that is human about me cannot align myself with this verse but everything that is spiritual about me desperately wants that to become my natural (super-natural perhaps!) reaction to it. It might seem far off but it is a challenge to me to get to a place where this is true. It is the word of God. I believe it is true so I want to get there.
We can look at people’s situations and see tragedy around us and think ‘How will they ever laugh again?’ The truth is, it is their choice whether they laugh again. Joy is our choice, no matter what our circumstances are. There a very few people I know who’s first reaction to a trial is to ‘consider it joy’. I do know a handful of people who have worked hard to feel that way, but human nature does the complete opposite of that. I am not saying don’t feel pain, you must… you must be honest about your feelings but what if, in the midst of tragedy, you are able to chose joy. There is freedom in it and a life of joy is what we were intended for.
Give yourself permission to live a life of joy.
If I go back to thinking about those people that I know who are an example of understanding pure joy in trial, the only perfect example is Jesus. Kay Warren in her book ‘Chose joy, because happiness isn’t enough’ (which is so brilliant and I highly recommend) opened up something to me that in all my life I had not dwelt upon. It was the idea of Jesus being a man of joy. The Bible tells us in Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus was a man of suffering or sorrows but she opened up to me the man of joy.
How Jesus has been depicted in art throughout history has had so much influence on the way that we view him. I don’t know about you but until I watched The Passion of the Christ I did not understand the suffering of the cross. Having seen paintings and films where Jesus is shown on the cross with maybe one scratch on him, with his face in tact but showing a solemn expression, wearing a covering and a crown that looked uncomfortable but gently resting on his head, I saw just that… I thought the cross was uncomfortable. I thought I was grateful that Jesus had done that for me. When I saw The Passion of the Christ I was traumatised. I was so affected by the horror that as I walked out of the cinema everything seemed so insignificant that I accidentally stepped out in front of a car. I was so moved by that portrayal of Jesus that the whole world looked different. I can’t bear to imagine the real scene. In fact as a write my eyes well up and my heart aches that He suffered unimaginable horror for me. I am more grateful having had a deeper insight and having seen another person’s interpretation of that day, and my understanding is enriched because of it.
Over the years people have read the Bible and interpreted what they have read through paintings, art, poetry and film. And these observations have subconsciously built us a picture of who Jesus was and what he did. We can do nothing but use our imaginations.
He was a man of sorrows and suffering but sometimes, because of how heavily we are influenced by the things around us, we struggle to see him as a man of joy.
Kay opens up in her book the verses that give us evidence that Jesus too was a man of joy. He knew he was sent here to die but yet he was someone who people wanted to be around and follow around. If you knew that your purpose on earth was to be mocked and scorned and brutally murdered what would your face look like everyday? Mine would not be one that drew people to me. Most people would steer clear of me because I would’ve been such a negative influence, but not Jesus. People were drawn to Jesus; they wanted to be around him. He changed the atmosphere and brought light with him. I know that my countenance sometimes does not lift an atmosphere. You could argue that there are times when it is hard just to get up in the morning never mind take joy with you wherever you go. That is true, and I am not for one minute saying that you are not allowed to feel sad or be in pain… of course you are, but there are times too when we must look at the life of Jesus and say to ourselves, if he can do it then I am going to try too.
I had an experience recently where I was in church. I was worshipping and singing to Jesus. I felt I could enter in to his presence. My heart had been very heavy, but in His presence it was lighter. I, however, decided that I didn’t want to feel the lightness, I wanted to feel the heaviness. so I entered His presence feeling a bit sorry for myself. I chose not to show my true reaction to the presence of God and God told me off! He said ‘How dare you enter my presence like that?’
In that moment I saw a glimpse of the holiness of God and I felt a conviction in my spirit that I will remember for the rest of my life. I feared Him and I had to say sorry. When my spirit acknowledged my sin I then felt the love of the Father, whose grace stood me up again. There is great joy in God’s presence and there was great joy in the presence of Jesus while he was here on earth too.
Jesus was and is a man who smiles and laughs. I believe He smiles over us. 1 Chronicles 16:27 tells us that ‘Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.’ If joy is in God’s dwelling place you can be sure that, not only is there joy in His presence, but that this was true of Jesus while he lived on the earth. My home is my dwelling place and it has seen sorrow but it is full of joy. The two things are inseparable. Where there is sorrow you cannot help but acknowledge joy in things around you and where there is joy you cannot help but acknowledge the sorrow in this world. Kay Warren describes them as train tracks that run parallel to earth other, when you are on one you cannot help but see the other.
Children see joy better than we do and they experience it more than we do. Children see people who exude joy and want to be around them. The Bible tells us in Mark 10 that people were bringing children to Jesus that he would bless them and the disciples tried to stop them. But Jesus said ‘let the little children come to me; do not stop them’ and he took them in his arms and blessed them. Children are often a good judge of character. If Jesus were forlorn and solemn would they have wanted to be with him? We must remember that Jesus is also our father and, as a Dad, children would bring so much joy to him.
Let’s think back to art and how our view is affected by the things that we see. How have we seen Jesus with children in our imagination? Are we influenced by images like this:
We see a serene or somber Jesus blessing the children. Is this how we see this moment as told in the gospels?
Or do we see this:
Until now I have never seen Jesus like this. Not even in my imagination. Look at the face of the boy on Jesus’ lap. That is joy. This is the joy of a father blessing his children.
This is Jesus, the laughing man.
This is a man who endured sorrow and suffering but this too is a man who understands joy. He is our role model for the verse in James. He understood what it meant to be lacking in nothing while he was here on earth.
So today, however you feel, whatever your situation, chose joy. That doesn’t mean your pain is any less but it will help you to endure it. We are His children. This mighty man, this man who suffered more than we will ever understand, this man whose faith was tested, this man who laughed and brought light to the earth.
And in your time of trials consider it joy to run into the arms of Jesus, the man of sorrow and of joy and ask him to help you endure until you are complete.