Daily Devotion - Wednesday, December 16, 2015
This is the third week of the season of Advent. Throughout the season of Advent we'll be focusing on what it means to be full of expectation and anticipation during this blessed time of year. We'll also be lifting up the various weekly themes of Advent, corresponding to the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. This week our theme is "Joy."
About ten years ago, I started signing every email, newsletter article and official pastoral letter that I wrote with the line, "Counting it all Joy." Since our topic this week is "joy," and since I've had more than a few folks over the years express their curiosity about my signature, I thought I would use today's devotional to explain why I chose that phrase and what it means to me.
Count it all pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. - James 1:2-3
Years ago, I was doing a study on the book of James and was struck by these two verses from the greeting portion of James' letter to the early Church. It's widely believed that the author of this letter was indeed James, the brother of Jesus.
James became the most influential leader of the church at Jerusalem in the early years of Church history, and also was martyred for his faith by the Roman authorities, and with the blessing of the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
I've always been amazed at the juxtaposition of joy and trials in this verse. "Count it all joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds." It doesn't make sense, at least on the surface. How is it even possible to find joy when you are in the middle of tough times, trials, tribulations, opposition and oppression?
When I chose the phrase "Count it all Joy," as a signature, I was experiencing some fairly serious challenges in ministry. I was a new pastor, in a new church and facing a bit of opposition, criticism and a few of the typical obstacles that accompany rookie pastors. In addition, our family was going through major changes that tested our faith and resolve. It was an extremely challenging season of our lives.
Finding joy in the middle of all that was going on was difficult, to say the least. Which is why James' words were so meaningful to me, and why I decided to include them on every bit of correspondence I shared. The reason why it's important to experience joy in the middle of challenge is because those testing moments produce perseverance. And it's perseverance that keeps us stumbling after Jesus when it feels like we can't go on any longer.
To "count it all joy," when things are not going as planned means that I have conceded control of my life to the One who knows better than I do what's best for me. To "count it all joy," is the highest form of trust that I can offer to God. If I am able to feel true joy even in the midst of trials and difficulties, that means that I am at peace with what comes next, even though I can't see it yet. It means that I am fully relying on God to hold me in His hand.
To "count it all joy," is also the greatest witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ that we can offer to the world.
May you count it all joy today, brothers and sisters. May you find the courage to trust God with all that you are and all that you have. May you find the ability to rejoice even when things are difficult, bearing witness to the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, who is within you, without you, behind you and before you.
Counting it all Joy