Joy in the middle

James 1:1-2

I am a pragmatic philosopher at heart. While it’s interesting to consider all the possibilities of all possible worlds in time and space, at the end of the day, I want what is useful. So did James. As the brother of Jesus he was skeptical until after the resurrection. I mean, having a big brother who was the long promised Messiah makes little sense to the pragmatist who expected Messiah to be a political force. But, skeptical pragmatists follow evidence, and James became one of the leaders in Jerusalem’s early church.

This epistle was written somewhere around the time of the Jerusalem Council of 50 AD (CE). By this time in history, the first Herod Agrippa (the one who imprisoned Peter in Acts 12) was dead, and the province of Judah was increasingly under Roman control. (Romans destroyed the Temple in 70, and both Jewish and Christian people were dispersed.) It was not an easy time to be a Jesus follower. The church was under attack by the Roman authorities and Jewish leaders. To make it worse, the church was also divided from within, between those who blended the Old Covenant with the New, and those Gentiles who only followed the New Covenant. You can read the whole debate in Acts 15.

The context for this letter (as with everything) is important. The believers who were James’ audience were feeling pressure from all sides: religious, cultural, economic, and political. They were fearful and discouraged, and not sure what to make of the chaos. When James opened with “Count it all joy,” he recognized their level of disquiet and gave them a different perspective.

We are living in uncertain times. It makes sense that we feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or unable to process the chaos that COVID19 is causing. James reminds us that we can choose joy. Joy is not a reaction to circumstances, but a response in circumstances. Trials in many forms are not optional; they are part of living in this world. Choosing joy in the middle of chaos lets us see the sovereignty of God so that our faith will grow. We become steadfast in faith, rooted in hope, and abounding in love.

Steadfastness of hope

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (part 3).

There is so much packed into this one verse! I may use these short devotions as an outline for something longer eventually!

Steadfastness of hope is one I struggle with, particularly with the little things, like where I will work next year. I get discouraged when I see so few opportunities closer to home. I love my work in Las Vegas, which makes it even more challenging to persevere in hope for something in the South. However, I remind myself that this is just a blip in the whole of my life and God has the eternal view. He will provide on His timetable.

To be steadfast in hope is to know that our salvation through Jesus is not a ticket to a trouble free life. It means we continue our work in spite of our feeling like we can’t catch a break. It means we rely on the Father to meet our needs even when we can’t see how or when. To be steadfast is to be persistent in our love for one another, even when people are being unlovable. Hope is knowing that God takes the long view of our lives while we get tangled in the moment.

I know I’m not alone in struggling to be steadfast in hope. I’m sure most of use want burning bushes or pillars of fire to guide our way forward in life. Disappointment and discouragement can make us question everything we do and think sometimes. It reminds me of Habakkuk saying, “How long?” I am confident in my heart that I am working out my salvation according to His plan for me, but sometimes I question that in my head. Fortunately, my head is also able to remember that God does have a plan and that I can be confident in that, even when I don’t know what it is.

Paul taught in his letter to the Romans the path to practicing steadfastness of hope (Romans 5:1-11):
1. Have peace; we are already justified by faith
2. Rejoice during hard times; joy is a choice
3. Grow in endurance; life is a marathon, not a sprint
4. Develop character; do justly, love mercy, walk humbly
5. Know God’s love is poured on us, even when we don’t feel it.
6. Do not be ashamed of your hope; people may criticize you for being persistent in declaring the gospel, but do it boldly anyway.
7. Remember whose you are!

To be steadfast is to be certain in our work, in our calling, in our salvation, and in our love for one another. Certainty is hard! But we are not alone in feeling uncertain. Name any of the saints of old and you’ll find moments of darkness and doubt. But they didn’t dwell on their feelings of discouragement, they chose determined joy. They joined Habakkuk declaring that the Lord in in His holy place. They imitated David in proclaiming that the Lord is a shield. Certainly we can remember that the Lord is our Shepherd and He cares for us, even though it is sometimes hard to do. We need to push through our frustrations, disappointments, and struggles with dogged determination, knowing that God sees us where we are and He is aware of our difficulties.

As for me right now, I know there will be a position for me next fall, but I want to know where. And wanting to know more makes me feel uncertain about my call and my work! It’s a cycle that keeps me in the Word and on my knees for sure.

What kinds of struggles do you have with being steadfast in hope?