Emotions, necessary as they are, can change on a dime. It’s kind of like the weather here in Texas. They say if you don’t like it just wait five minutes and it will change. They aren’t kidding either. One day there is snow falling, I’m wearing a Parka to go into the Tundra, and the next day it’s sunny and 75 degrees outside and I’m tearing layers off and running the air conditioner. It’s completely Bi-Polar (pun intended). It’s just as remarkable to me that one day, like right after church, I can feel like I can conquer anything because Jesus is so near and the next day I’m laying face down in a ditch of self-pity. It’s ridiculous! So today while reading James 1, I saw myself and realized what a hay day the devil has been having with me and I know better. You see I wrote a blog called “Jesus is passing by” which really touches on this subject but today I would like to go deeper. As they say on one of my favorite rides at Disneyland, “Hold on to your hats boys and girls, this is going to be one wild ride.”
Now I don’t want to scare you off because we really do live in a flesh suit that feels everything that is going on around us. And just as a reminder, Jesus is there lovingly to lift us up and brush us off and set us back on our feet again. I don’t mean to deny the pain that many are feeling. Nor is this post about those who are going through grief and tremendous struggles. However for the rest of us I do hope to help us see from a different perspective the reality of suffering according to the Word.
Let’s start with a little history. James is the brother of Jesus. Talk about someone knowing you really well. This same brother didn’t believe in Jesus until after His death and resurrection. He had to be brought pretty low and I’m sure he dealt with a lot of regret but because he really did know Him, he knew how He forgives and restores. Now James is the leader of the church at Jerusalem. But instead of considering himself as anything he begins his greeting as James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. A bondservant, which means he is a slave by choice. In my above mentioned blog I told about the feelings Jesus must have felt being rejected by His family and home town (because they “knew him”) and how this prepared Jesus to teach His disciples how to be accepted and how to be rejected. You see in this life we will all have these two anchors and every thing that falls in between. Emotions, they can lift or cripple us. But the one I want to concentrate on is Self-Pity.
James says right out of the shoot in V.2 to count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Now I know that the Joy of the Lord is our strength according to Nehemiah 8:10, but what caught my eye was the word trials so I looked it up. It means many things but all it’s nouns denote suffering. That’s what hit me. Suffering. We suffer for many reasons and in many ways but then I heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit say “but what is suffering according to My Word?” Ouch. I knew what it was. According to most of Paul’s letters and Jesus himself we find that suffering means being persecuted for our faith. To be persecuted for our faith is a whole lot different than me dealing with my feelings about any given situation. Now again I don’t want to seem cold and indifferent but please hear me out because if you can get this it will lead to freedom in your life. It’s a freedom that changes everything. And believe me when I tell you I want you free. I want to be free. Jesus wants US free!
If suffering Biblically truly meant persecution then first we must do a complete about face in our thinking and in our attitudes about life and circumstance. We think we are suffering on every side. It’s a lie. We are blessed everyday beyond measure. This is the first truth. I know that there are exceptions to this rule here in America but hear me out. If I am sick, I can go to a doctor. I can go to an emergency room and they can’t turn me away. If I am hungry I can go to a food bank and receive food. Most of us don’t deal with real want. There are countries where there is no medicine even if you could go to a Doctor. There is no food even if you wanted it. We are truly blessed. Even if I was suffering from a disease unto death, Paul said “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8 . Death wasn’t a fear or suffering. Then that leads to the second truth. Suffering was persecution. Hebrews 11 tells us what that is. It says in V.36-37 “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented… I don’t know about you but I haven’t even come close to dealing with these things. There are those in other countries right now who are and desperately need us to be praying for them however this is not the majority of us.
So I am forced then to look with eyes wide open at my own heart. Self-pity has a way of creeping in. When my niece was a little girl and she wasn’t happy she would hang herself over forward with arms practically dragging on the ground and head down too. It was so funny to watch. We called it “Sackloth and ashes”. She was in the depths of despair to her but in reality she was just having a pity party. I remember hearing someone say once “I’m going to go get a cupcake with a candle and throw myself a pity party” and she asked me if I wanted to come. I laughed out loud as we both knew it was nothing more than that. Self-pity. Unless I am being truly persecuted for my faith it is only then that I am suffering. So even if I am suffering persecution, James says in V.1-4 to count it all joy because suffering has benefits. It produces patience and if we let patience work in us it will perfect and complete us to the point of lacking nothing. That’s a whole lot of something.
This whole understanding is a time shift. It takes me from thinking in the temporal to the eternal. It takes my mind off of what fades and passes away to that which will stand forever. It removes my love of this world and places it in the world to come. This understanding removes self-pity. Self-pity keeps me tethered to me and nothing else. How can I be about my Father’s business if I can’t see past myself? Jesus was a servant of all who said of himself that the Son of man has no where to lay His head. Matthew 8:20. He wasn’t complaining with self-pity but simply stating a fact. He said He only does what He sees the Father doing and only says what the Father is saying. This is complete humility and servanthood. I can only serve one master. It’s me or it’s Him. His life was literally a life of sacrifice and dying to self. There is no room for self-pity. If I am feeling sorry for myself I can bet my flesh is as strong as ever and I’m still on the throne of my own heart.
And yet, if I can see my life as He saw His how free I would be. I would be living like Paul. Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”. What can man do to me?
I have a daily challenge for you. To really think about every blessing that you have from a tooth brush to clean the teeth you have, to the clothes you get to put on, truly. I know that’s funny but think about what you could not have. The things you take for granted. When you are hungry do you get to choose what to eat? When you need to get somewhere did you get to drive or ride in a vehicle? Many don’t. If we place our faith in Jesus He promises that He would meet our needs. You may not have every want but you will have your needs met.
Again I want to emphasize how compassionate and loving our Lord is and that He is right there save us when we are overwhelmed and drowning. However I would submit that we do a self check. Are we walking around in “Sackcloth and Ashes” in the pit of self-pity of our own making or is the enemy lying to you which robs you of your joy and instead you really are blessed. Ask Him what His thoughts are and try to turn your thoughts to the things that aren’t passing but eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So let the Joy of the Lord be your strength. If you don’t know what to do James 1:5 says If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. All is not lost. Jesus said in John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” You will make it. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37
So count it all joy my brethren when you fall into various trials. We can do this! Let’s choose freedom today and get busy doing our Father’s business.
By Jaime Luce