Truth Thursdays 22: Happiness vs Joy vs Suffering

This blog entry is inspired by Ray Stedman’s sermon on Romans 5:3-10.  You can check out the link here.

joy

The Greek word for suffering defines it as a ‘tribulation’ or something that causes distress.  In Romans 5:3-5, Paul makes it clear that our response to suffering should be to rejoice.  This is backed up by other verses in the Bible:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2, NIV)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV)

Joy is not simple stoicism/ hanging in there/ or enjoying the pain.  It is not pretending you’re happy.  Christianity is never fake.  Philip Yancey once wrote back to an email I sent him asking about disappointment and trusting God.  I have posted my email and his response below:

Dear Mr. Yancey,

I just needed to ask you a question that a friend and I have been arguing about for a while now. We were discussing disappointment and trusting God and my friend basically said that if you trust God or if you consult him on all areas of decision-making, it’s possible to never feel disappointed with the answers he gives you, because your trust is complete and whole in him. However, just from my experience I believe that its possible to be disappointed with God’s answer but to trust that his way is right and true and to obey despite your personal desires. Does that mean my trust in him is not complete? Because I occasionally still feel disappointment?

I know you’re a busy man and probably won’t have the time to respond to this but I hope you do. I have felt an enormous amount of condemnation regarding this and although I have read my Bible nothing has jumped out that has been a clear word on this. I’m not looking to be proven right. I just want to get some perspective from someone who seems to have more insight on this.

Thanks very much!

 Here is a portion of his reply:

It is my firm belief and personal experience that God does not want us to turn into automatons when we decide to follow him.  I believe God wants us to come to him with our whole heart, soul and mind, not leaving anything of ourselves stuffed in a closet or relegated to the back shelf.  Therefore, we will bring the struggles of our will vs. his will to the relationship with God, just as in any other relationship. I can think of numerous examples in the Bible where this was true, and the person involved was disappointed but chose to accept God’s will over his own.  Think of Paul and his thorn in the flesh.  Or of David, longing and pleading for his and Bathsheba’s son not to die.  Or Abraham and Sarah wanting a child before they were old and gray.  We can go on on and on with the examples of deferred gratification in favor of God’s best.  The best response to your question is to recommend the book of Psalms: it’s full of disappointment, even anger, yet has been the believers’ prayer book through the centuries.  That says it well, I think.

I respect your friends’ point of view, but I like yours better.  Listen to your own heart.  You can trust it.

Philip Yancey

While this does not necessarily speak directly to joy I believe it still relates.  Joy is not hiding your disappointments or hurt from God.  In fact the Bible acknowledges this:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

So we acknowledge that joy is not faking happiness – the question then remains…what does it mean to rejoice in our sufferings??  Ray Stedman defines it as thus: “an awareness that this suffering has done something of supreme value; therefore, you wouldn’t have missed it. But you wouldn’t have chosen it, either!”

So how does one rejoice in suffering?  Mr. Stedman explains that we are able to rejoice because we know something – we know that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope.  There is a point to our suffering.  It is not for nothing.  It produces perseverance (or steadiness) – the ability to be patient, to stay under pressure and not panic.  It also produces character – developing you to be a strong and reliable person.  A person that can withstand the test of disappointments and hurts and pain.  Finally suffering produces hope – hope that God is continually perfecting us to become more and more like Christ, transforming us into His image.

I will quote Mr. Stedman on this last point on rejoicing in suffering:

“I know some Christians who are suffering, but are not being made steady and reliable and confident. Instead, they are being made bitter and resentful and angry, even to the point of denying their faith. Suffering, you see, does not produce these qualities automatically. You can go through suffering as a Christian and be filled with anger and rage and resentment against God. What makes the difference?

As Paul explains here, the difference is in seeing your suffering as evidence of God’s love, and not his wrath. Then you will experience that love in the midst of the suffering. The Holy Spirit will shed abroad in your heart an experience of the love of God so rich and radiant and glorious that you will not be able to help but rejoice in your suffering. But, if you see your suffering as evidence of God’s wrath, you will be rendered frustrated and angry and resentful and miserable.”

Truth Thursdays exists to connect people through writing.  To initiate something honest, thoughtful, and meaningful.  Truth Thursdays is an open discussion of expressions. There are no right or wrong responses, Truth Thursdays are just what they are.

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challenging myself.

My best friend recently bought me a book she had been trying to get me to read for a while now.  It’s called “Kisses from Katie” and it’s the story of an 18 year old girl that graduated high school, moved to Uganda, and adopted 14 kids.  All by herself.  All because God told her to.

We agreed on reading a chapter a day and then discussing it over Voxer.  I read the first chapter, cried my eyes out, and decided I had to share my reactions here.  So for the next couple of weeks I will be blogging about this book, one chapter at a time.

Chapter 3: Enough to go around

Quick Summary: Katie starts to realize the huge discrepancy between what she professes and how she lives.  She talks about how she feels the need to actually DO SOMETHING.  In an effort to be strategic, she starts by sponsoring school fees & supplies for two girls.  This stokes a fire in her to find sponsors for more children, so they can attend school, get an education, and carve out a better life for themselves and their families.

My reaction:

“As abject poverty confronted me every day, I felt deeply convicted about one thing: God did not make too many people and not enough resources to go around.  Because we were living in His world, there had to be a solution.  Everywhere I looked in the bible, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of Revelation, people who believe in God are supposed to share with the poor.  Helping the poor is not something God asks His people to do; it is something that, throughout all generations, He instructs us to do…clearly, from God’s perspective, those who are blessed with riches are supposed to share with the poor, meaning that those who don’t have the resources to get what they need can do so, to the point that the poor aren’t so poor anymore.  I looked around, though, and these new friends of mine were still destitute.  I wondered what the western world was missing and why so many Christians didn’t seem to be doing what God so obviously wants us to do where the needy are concerned.”

I was out driving yesterday and while waiting for the light to change a beggar-child came up to my window and knocked, asking for money.  In the Philippines you’re never sure whether that child is begging on behalf of a syndicate, or to get a fix.  But I wonder…does it matter?  Is it so important for me to hold on to P5 just because I’m not sure where the money would be used?  I truly don’t know the right answer.  But what do I know for certain?  I know I can be strategic.  If I don’t want to give P5 to a street kid can’t I give that P5 to a home?  To a feeding program?  Can’t I give of myself?  Can’t I spend a day or even half a day a week loving children?  Loving the poor?  Loving the unlovable?  I am not rich…but surely I can do without P5 each day.  Why am I like so many Christians that don’t do what God has commanded us to do – help the poor.  Share your belongings (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35).  Leave something for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut 24:19-22).  What am I doing??  I am not walking as Christ did.  As a disciple and Christ-follower, I’m doing pretty shoddy work.  Katie compares herself to “probably the worst disciple ever” – Peter, the rock on which God built His church.

“Peter is the rock on which God built His church.  But first, Peter was probably the worst disciple ever.  I am Peter…For each time I deny God the glory that is His, for each time I follow my will instead of listening to His, for each time I jump ahead without first consulting my Lord, He asks, ‘Daughter, do you truly love me?’ and I do.  ‘Feed my sheep.’  And I will.  And I do.  ‘Come follow me.’  And I am, or at least I am trying.  I am Peter.  I mess up.  I make mistakes, I am far from perfect, and God will use me.  God will establish great things through me.  You are Peter.  God already knows that you will make a mess, but His plan for you is great.  Go.  Feed His sheep.”

Thank God for His mercy and His grace.  Thank God that even when He sees me failing to be kind, to be generous, to be Jesus to someone less fortunate than I, He still forgives me.  He redeems me.  He calls me back.  He offers me chance after chance after chance.  He promises to use me – broken, selfish, cold-hearted me.  And He sees in me someone that is whole, generous, kind.  Someone that is like Him.

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’  Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (John 21:15, NIV).

Here’s my action plan: I’m going to be volunteering in some way.  Before the month ends I want to have found a place that I can spend some money on and some time in.  I want to practically help the needy.  Check in with me on this, I would love to be accountable!  And I would love it if whoever reads this would join me in reaching out, loving the needy, and being Jesus to them.

Acts 4:32-35

To learn more about Katie and her ministry you can check out Katie’s blog here.

an offering made with devotion.

My best friend recently bought me a book she had been trying to get me to read for a while now.  It’s called “Kisses from Katie” and it’s the story of an 18 year old girl that graduated high school, moved to Uganda, and adopted 14 kids.  All by herself.  All because God told her to.

We agreed on reading a chapter a day and then discussing it over Voxer.  I read the first chapter, cried my eyes out, and decided I had to share my reactions here.  So for the next couple of weeks I will be blogging about this book, one chapter at a time.

Chapter 2: In the crucible of contradiction

Quick Summary: Katie summarizes her first year in Uganda with the word “contradiction”.  She talks about how battling with feelings of immeasurable happiness doing God’s work and loneliness for family, friends, and the familiar comforts of home.  Embracing all the emotions as real and valid, at the end of the day though she wanted more than comfort.  She wanted God.  To dwell in His will for her life.

My reaction:

“I wanted to be challenged endlessly; I wanted to be learning and growing every minute.  I wanted to be taught by those I teach, and I wanted to share God’s love with people who otherwise might not know it.  I wanted to work so hard that I ended every day filthy and too tired to move.  I wanted to feel needed, important, and used by the Lord.  I wanted to make some kind of difference, no matter how small, and I wanted to follow the calling God had placed on my heart.  I wanted to give my life away, to serve the Lord with each breath, each second.  At the end of the day, no matter how hard, I wanted to be right here in Uganda.”

Do you ever think there’s got to be more to life than this?  Waking up, trudging halfheartedly to work, grabbing dinner, maybe watching a movie, going home, then doing it all again the next day?  I do.  For the past 3-4 years I have been thinking that perhaps I’m not doing what God designed me to do.  It started as a thought that would pop up every now and then when things at work became a bit too difficult for me.  Maybe this isn’t where I’m meant to be.  Maybe this isn’t what I’m meant to do.  Over time though, that inconstant niggling thought at the back of my head has turned into a loud persistent voice – showing up front and center.  It is telling me there is more to life than this.  More to life than serving myself and my needs.  This life is not meant for my benefit.  It’s meant to be lived on behalf of God.  By loving others.  Being Jesus to them.  And doing that in such a way that is uniquely me.  I don’t know that I am called to open an orphanage in Uganda.  I don’t know that I’m called to be a light in a world of industry titans.  That’s the problem.  I just don’t know.  I don’t know what my calling is.  But maybe, finally, I’m ready to listen to that loud persistent, constant voice in my head.  Perhaps now, now that the stubbornness has been replaced by this all-consuming discontent with how I’m living, I’ll be ready to follow where it leads.

“But I should not pity these children.  In fact, I should envy them.  At six years old, these children know what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  These children know the greatness, the wonder of our God.  I’ve had people ask me why I think Africa is so impoverished, but these children are not poor.  I, as a person who grew up wealthy, am.  I put value in things.  These children, having no things, put value in God.  I put my trust in relationships; these children, having already seen relationships fail, put their trust in the Lord.”

My prayer today is to learn to leave these things and attachments behind.  To put my trust wholly in God and be willing to do whatever it is He asks of me.  I am not Katie Davis and I cannot do what she has been called to do.  Oh but to know that I am willing!  Willing to be changed so completely by the God who enables me to be more than just a cog in the machine, to do more than what I know I am capable of.  To rest in the center of His will for my life.  And to go forth and do what He has designed me to do.  At the end of my life, I want to be able to say (as Katie is able to) “I have given my life away, an offering made with devotion, to serve the Lord, with each breath, each second.”

Romans 12: 1-2

To learn more about Katie and her ministry you can check out Katie’s blog here.

to love like Christ.

Kisses-from-Katie-199x300My best friend recently bought me a book she had been trying to get me to read for a while now.  It’s called “Kisses from Katie” and it’s the story of an 18 year old girl that graduated high school, moved to Uganda, and adopted 14 kids.  All by herself.  All because God told her to.

We agreed on reading a chapter a day and then discussing it over Voxer.  I read the first chapter, cried my eyes out, and decided I had to share my reactions here.  So for the next couple of weeks I will be blogging about this book, one chapter at a time.

Chapter 1: Falling in love – with a country

Quick Summary: Katie talks about the decision to do a short mission trip in Uganda while still in high school.  She quickly realizes she’s meant to go back, for at least a year this time.  After high school graduation she packs up and moves to Uganda for what she thought would be one year.

My reaction:

“I just sat right down on that cold, hard floor and snuggled my nose into their dirty necks and kissed their fungus-covered heads and didn’t even see it.  I was in love.”

I felt so ashamed to even read that.  I am all too aware of dirt, of disease, of filth.  I have been to a couple of orphanages.  I live in a country where street kids are all too common.  I used to think I was compassionate.  But I read those words and realized my heart is evil.  My heart doesn’t look at people covered in filth and realize that’s how I must look to God.  My heart doesn’t say love them anyway, play with them, kiss them, hug them.  I cringe.  I stay away.  I’m not being Jesus to people that really need Him.

“It is simply an ongoing, ever-changing result of what it looks like to try to love like Christ in my life…this is the place where I am supposed to follow Jesus, obey Him, and make my best effort, with His gracious help, to treat people with dignity and care for them unconditionally.  To say yes to each and every thing He asks of me, to each person He places in front of me.”

I started to cry while reading this.  I am nearly 30 years old and I do not know how to live this way.  A girl almost a decade younger is able to live this way.  Why can’t I?  The truth of it is that I am full of fear.  I’m fearful that I’m not doing what God wants me to do.  I’m afraid that what He wants me to do might be to live uncomfortably for the rest of my life.  I’m afraid to step out in faith and change my life because I have no money to do so.  I found myself thinking that if only I had the funds, I could take a year off and volunteer somewhere.  But only if I had the resources to do so because I can’t imagine doing something crazy like that and not having the security of a hefty bank account to sustain me.   I am trapped by my fears and burdened by my attachments.  And I’m upset and angry.  I’m upset to be confronted with my selfish, evil heart.  I’m angry that I have come to this.  I cannot reconcile the person I am with the person I desire to be.  They are worlds apart and the realization sends me into despair.

My prayer today was simple.  Lord change my heart.  Enable me to love people, truly love people, the way that You do.  I realize that You may have been breaking me all this time to get me to a place of surrender to Your calling and plan for my life.  But Lord, please, can’t you just change my heart and enable me, by Your grace, miraculously, to be the kind of person that would leave everything and bravely go forward doing what You want them to do?

I’m emotionally exhausted just reading this first chapter.  But I’m also cautiously hopeful.  I am hoping that by the end of this book God will have given me a new heart, one that is ready to receive Him in any capacity.

To learn more about Katie and her ministry you can check out Katie’s blog here.