Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I've got your "joy, joy, joy" right here!

You know those Christians who seem to be at peace with every circumstance that comes their way? The ones who boast the “peace of God” in the midst of a challenging situation? The ones who really have figured out what it means to “consider it pure joy they face trials of many kinds?” You know the type – the ones with the joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts? Blegh! I love them dearly, but I’m not particularly fond of them sometimes. I actually heard someone say recently that those people are “walking in the light,” as all Christians should. They implied that their peace and joy in the midst of trials was a true testimony to their strong faith and I had to object (cause that’s just how I am – I think we should rattle the cage every now and again). I would never go so far as to say that they are not genuine in their state of mind. I am certain they do feel God’s peace and are truly content. I’d even suggest that their faith is strong during those moments, because to deny that would be extremely judgmental and I’m sure everyone knows that I rarely rush to judgment (hehehe). What I do take objection to is the idea that THEY are the ones who walk in the light and the rest of us slackers need to pick up the pace. Ok, so maybe they didn’t use those words, but the implication was there. At the very least, I think the idea is worthy of closer examination.

Somewhere in the course of the conversation, the statement was made that Christians who have figured out how to find that joy in the midst of suffering are a pleasure to be around, that their joy sometimes rubs off on us when we aren’t so “chipper,” and that they are positive examples for our faith. A little background info…we had been previously discussing how our complaining and arguing during times of tribulation is sinful and how it can corrupt and compromise the faith of others (people who witness our temper tantrums). Then the conversation rolled around to how joyful Christians actually encourage our faith, not compromise it. So, me being me, I was forced to share my discomfort with the idea and assert that most often when I encounter Christians who appear to be joyful all the time, my faith is frustrated more than it is encouraged. There’s this nagging inside me that taunts, “No one is happy all the time, especially not when we’re struggling with some test of our faith.” And again I say, I’m not assuming their emotions are ingenuine; I’m only dispelling my reaction to their emotions.

Ok, so if you believe God in 1 Samuel 16:7 when He says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” then isn’t it possible our definitions of joy and peace might be a little one-sided? I mean, we’ve decided that when someone is suffering and they appear to be happy, they must really be trusting God. They must be very confident in their faith. But truly, only God knows their hearts and where they stand in relation to Him. So why would I model my own faith after someone else’s reaction to struggles if I don’t know what lies beyond the surface? I’d rather rely on what I know to be true, not what I assume to be true. And this much I know…I know that God made us all different, with different reactions and different emotions and different approaches to life. And I believe He did that intentionally, to encourage us to spend time getting to know each other. We don’t fit a mold and I think that’s the beauty of fellowship – to discover what is unique in each of us and celebrate it. I mean honestly, even Jesus wasn’t walking around singing, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart” at every minute, every day. He grieved. He was ambivalent, nonchalant, and even angry at times. But that is what attracted people to Him, his ability to reach different people on different levels.

So is it possible for me to actually compromise someone else’s faith? Hmmm…gonna go with ABSOLUTELY on this one! The minute I stop acknowledging that I need Jesus to help me through; I have truly misrepresented my God. When I’m going through some test or trial and I feel the need to complain or argue, where exactly is my focus? If every trial is from God and I’m complaining about my trials, then aren’t I complaining about God? Am I showing an unbelieving world that God is a mean, mean Grinch who seeks to hurt me as often as possible? Or am I complaining to God and asking Him for guidance? Am I trusting in His goodness and His plans for me? (Don’t I always seem to bring it back to this?) I guess what really feels unsettling is why I run to everyone else to validate my frustration. I complain because I want someone to acknowledge that I am justified in feeling wronged. I want support in my anger and the truth is that most often, it isn’t worthy of validation. And what I should be doing is running to God for comfort. WHY DO I DO THAT? When something wonderful happens to me, I call the one person I know will share in my excitement. And when I’m hurting, I call the one person who knows how to comfort and encourage me. Why is that one person rarely God? If I believed in His love for me, He would be my “one and only.” He would be the one I run to and the result of that intimacy would be genuine, uncompromised faith - trust in the middle of trials.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 says, “For everything God Created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Now there’s a thought. That means, even the trials and tests and suffering are good, because they are from God. I guess it’s all in the perspective. If everything God creates is good, then those circumstances I complain about are actually meant for good. So I should be receiving them with thanksgiving, because ultimately, my faith will be strengthened and God will prove Himself faithful once again. Wow, if only I lived that way on a consistent basis. God would truly be my one and only. But I digress; my faithless heart leads me astray.

We are all going to experience pain and suffering. Some of us will appear at peace in the midst of it. Some of us will appear to be crumbling under the weight of our circumstances. Some of us will appear unphased. Aren't appearances deceiving? So is it our shiny, happy, smiling faces during these times that matter or is it where we stand in relation to God? Am I turning my back on Him or am I running to Him? Can I rejoice in His love and faithfulness without rejoicing in my circumstances? I mean really, if He’s testing me, at least He hasn’t forgotten about me. One final thought. When our faith is tested and we “pass” the test by continuing to trust in God, our faith is proven. So really, it’s His continual faithfulness to us that lends credibility to our faith. Hmmm…God is good.

God be my God, my one and only. Take the place of all those things I turn to for comfort (even the mall). Let my wandering heart find its way back home. Help me to rejoice in your love. When all around has fallen, let your loving arms uplift me. Help me not to compromise the faith of another by failing to run to you. And please, oh please, do the same for my friends.

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