Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Count It all JOY

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a happy prince who did everything just right. He never made mistakes. He did everything perfect and never disappointed anyone. Everyone loved him and he lived happily ever after.

Yes, it’s a ‘fairy tale’ life. It’s what we wish life could sometimes be like. Unfortunately, we are frail human beings who learn by making mistakes. All through our lives, we make choices, and we learn from each one. Some choices are good ones, and some get us into all kinds of trouble. Trouble does not make us very happy. Yet we long to be happy. We spend most of our lives seeking happiness. Sometimes people feel if they could just get a little more money, they would be happy. If they could just get a better job… a nicer house…. A longer vacation… or, if the kids would just behave, or if my family would be normal...or if ...and the list goes on and on. You may be making up your own list in your mind right now. We long for a better tomorrow, yet we so often spend most of our time looking at the past, wishing we had done things differently, hoping for change.

In the land of regrets...
Living in the land of regrets is an awful place to dwell. Frequently those who come to visit here end up spending the rest of their lives stuck in the mud spinning their wheels in the roadway of regret. Sometimes we find ourselves there because of worry. When we worry about things, we often say to ourselves, “What if…?” We suppose what might happen. Yet God gives us clear instructions in the world about the problem of worry. In Matthew 6:34 we are told...Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. That means we are to take life one day at a time, and God will give us just enough grace for that one day. We can never alter tomorrow, for only God knows what our tomorrows hold. I don’t need faith for tomorrow. I just need enough for today! God promised to give us our daily bread…. Not weekly bread or monthly bread. Each day He provided manna in the wilderness, just enough for that day.

When we fall into the trap of looking back and starting our “If only I …”, then we need to stop in our tracks, and remember God deals with us as forgiven children. The past, if repented of, is under the cleansing of His blood. It is remembered no more! We all make mistakes. God wants us to confess them to Him and move on. We are to deal with where we are now and stop looking back. We need to daily walk in forgiveness, even if others bring up the past to remind us again and again. We need to forgive ourselves and them. Don’t let your past keep you from your victorious tomorrow! What becomes your focus is what you become. You can choose to focus on yourself and your past, and you will find yourself living in the land of regret. God told Isaiah “Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new…” (Is 43:18,19 The Message)
If we are so busy looking at the pain of the past, we may miss the new thing God has waiting for us. God wants to do something new and special in your life.
When you feel helpless and weak, be reminded that God works beyond you yet recognizes our human frailties and He gives us just what we need. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29) He is the All Powerful One and He puts some of Himself in each of us! He wants to replace all of your regrets with His joy!

In listening to a message recently by a local pastor, he encouraged those who live in regrets to put them behind. Too often, people regret their relationships… who they married, how many kids they have. Yet God chooses to use us in the circumstances where we find ourselves. Christian maturity will cause us to love where we are. Love that unsaved spouse….be Jesus to him or her. Love those children, and teach them to love Jesus. Don’t just tell them about His love for them...be love in action! Show them by your behavior how love covers a multitude of sins. That’s what Jesus did. He did not go around pointing out everyone’s faults and failures. He just loved them where they were, and they recognized on their own their need of the Savior. He did not condemn—–He forgave!

Sometimes in the land of regret, we worry about what others think. Our fears of the opinions of others will paralyze our spiritual growth. If we are so worried about the opinions of others, we probably have a problem with pride. The Word tells us we are to humble ourselves. “ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7) Take note, that along with humbling ourselves, we are to cast our anxiety, our stress, our worries, on God. Humbling ourselves is something we must do. Others cannot do it for us. We must recognize our problem and deal with it. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we will often be amazed at all the wrong attitudes in our lives. As long as pride is resident in us, there is no room for God. We must admit our need for humility. When we can cast our cares on Him...then the joy will come.

Count it all Joy:
When bad things happen to God’s people, we sometimes struggle with trust, finding it hard to see the hand or plan of God in the situation. God often uses the most difficult of circumstances to draw us to Himself. He did it over and over to the Israelites. Only a small percentage kept their focus and trust in God. Caleb and Joshua did so and walked into the promise land. Millions of others died in the wilderness.

He is waiting for us to ask, trusting Him for our answer… “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24) Even in the most trying of circumstances, as you trust in the Lord, He will bring joy into your heart. The Apostles knew this kind of joy… “in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (2 Cor 7:4) and “Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy...abounded…” (2 Cor 8:2) When you know who is really in charge of it all, you can trust Him. The stress is no longer yours… it is His. You can “Count it all joy” (James 1:2) when tests and trials and temptations come your way, because now they are his tests and trials… and they are already won. He is the victor, and we have the victory! ‘Count it all joy’ does not mean that we are to be happy because we are going through tough times. It means we are to rejoice in that we are going to be better and stronger because we are going to learn from this experience. God allows the trials and ordains them to occur in all of our lives for our good. It is God stretching our spiritual ligaments. It is the very thing that will enable us to endure when greater tests come our way. Just as a moth must work its way out of the chrysalis and the baby bird must peck its way out of the egg shell in order to be strong and survive, so must we experience difficult things.

A View from the Zoo, author Gary Richmond tells about the birth of a giraffe. It has a hard start in life by dropping from its mother ten feet to the ground, falling hard on its back. Within a few seconds it rolls over into an upright position with its legs tucked under it. Suddenly, the mother giraffe does something that appears very cruel. Positioning herself over the baby, she kicks the baby, sending it sprawling. If the baby does not get up, she kicks it again until is struggles to its feet. When it is standing, she does another amazing thing—– she kicks it one more time, not because she hates it, but because instinctively she wants it to remember how to get up, to get strong to move quickly in the face of danger. Sometimes we feel like that baby giraffe, getting one kick after another. But in the midst of it all, God sees the future and is working for our good. He is making us strong.

If you are experiencing difficulties, know that God loves you and is working in your life to make you more and more like Himself. Trials are the heat God uses to purify our gold. Through them He exposes our spoiled and selfish attitudes. Your value is greatly diminished when your gold is tainted by worldly habits, ungodly attitudes, and self-centered thinking. His desire to change us causes Him to allow things that will drive us to our knees and into His presence.

Will you pass the test? Will you trust Him? Is He able to bring you through in victory? What if there were no trials, no tests? Would you need God? Would you develop patience and endurance? Count every difficulty, every test, every trial, every negative experience as a mark that God loves you, that He is working daily in your life, and desires to bring you to complete maturity and victory. Like gold – God is refining us and making us more pure, lovely and valuable. Count it all joy! He loves you!
J. Johnson