God is our very present help!

Dear Friends, are you in a present time crisis?  Has trouble found you when you least expected it and at the very wrong time possible?  The wonderful thing about being connected to the wonderful, heavenly Father is that no time is an inconvenient time for Him to come and help – even right now, presently.

God is never bound by the limits we experience or others we may run to for a source of hope and strength.  God is also the only One who not only knows us completely through and through, but He knows more about the details of our struggles, hurts, and pains than any other.  In His omniscience, there is no part of us – no part of anything we endure or go through that He is not aware of.  As such, there is no other place, person, or thing where we can truly find the satisfaction of help where we need it the most.

Please, do not misunderstand me.  God is not to be beckoned and treated as if He is an imaginary genie to grant our every wish on a whim.  No, but He is a promise keeper and so much more, who invites us to come to Him and seek His face – seek what He has to offer and trust His will and His timing – trust Him alone and above all during the times of conflict and uncertainty.

He, in His perfect love, is concerned about you and the things that are presently before you.  And, He knows that you are concerned about them too, and thus, He has allowed these assurances of His love and willingness to be available for help to be declared over and over in His holy Word, such as what the psalmist wrote when he said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Psalm 46:1).

There are times when I need Him in all those areas.  I need to find that in my weakest moments, in Him I can obtain strength.  When the storms are angry and blowing tempestuously in my life, He is my refuge and safety.  And yes, when troubles in any shape and form rear its ugly head, that God is our very present help – our right now source through it all.

Oh, if only every day were sunshine and rainbows, but alas, we know that there will be times when things and situations stir that makes us uncomfortable, shake us a bit, or cause some unsure feelings to arise.  But, the truth of what the psalmist wrote still stands just as sure today as it did when it was originally written, and the summation of that verse states that God cares deeply and lovingly for you.  Why else would He concern Himself with your present circumstances?  It is His love for you that compels Him.  It is His concern for you that causes His eye and heart to see what you are dealing with and moves Him to come to your aid.

Come, and take comfort in these blessed words that speak of His help and care for His people, and for you:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” (Psalm 46:1-7)

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“Believing Beyond”

Difficult situations are something no one will escape this life without experiencing.  Even Jesus told us ahead of time, “In the world ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33).  So, as much as we want to avoid them or not have them there at all, what do we do with the difficulties and adverse times when they come?

I think it is not so much about what we do with them.  I believe it is more important to discuss how do we respond to them.  Our responses give us and the world a little insight into what is on the inside of us.  Our responses show what we carry in our hearts and what we genuinely believe, for it is out of the heart where the issues of life flow (Proverbs 4:23).

In prayer, I was reminded of the great truth that it is not all about how we see things.  Our perspective can often be overshadowed by the many factors of our story, our emotions, and so forth.  But, when faced with challenging times, how do we react?

Negative experiences tend to draw negative responses from us.  But what if we can turn that on its heels?  What if we could take what appears to be upside down and turn it right side up?

Mind you, when we go forward in this, it is not going to be based on what one sees because we are already coming from a perspective of not liking what we see.  Rather, what do we want to see?  What is our prayer for change in these types of situations?

Take, for instance, the very familiar story of the dry bones in the valley (Ezekiel 37).  Ezekiel knew what he saw before him.  They were literally dry bones.  No life was there.  No possibility of something better beyond what he could see.

But God encouraged Ezekiel to do something unusual.  To look beyond how his humanness wanted to respond to what was before him, and in essence, God was encouraging him to speak life over what appeared completely dismal and unrepairable (Ezekiel 37:4-10).  In that, Ezekiel got a chance to participate in experiencing something not only wonderful – but something truly altogether miraculous.

What miracles are you praying for today?  What looks like a valley of dry bones before you today, but you want to see a change in it and speak life over it?

Another thing I was reminded of in prayer was this great truth: “(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)”, (2 Corinthians 5:7).  What is seen is not nearly as important as the faith one has – as what one believes.  When challenged with the question, “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3a) Ezekiel could have looked at the impossible dead things before him and not have reacted as God was prompting him to.  He could have based everything on what he currently saw.  Rather, he got into agreement with God, and declared, “O Lord GOD, thou knowest,” (Ezekiel 37:3b), and a few verses down, Ezekiel said, “So I prophesied as I was commanded…” (Ezekiel 37:7).

Both Martha and Mary were challenged in this area when Jesus came after Lazarus had died.  Both responded to what they saw, and said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,” (John 11:21, 32).  But Jesus encouraged them to believe beyond what they could see.

Jesus, standing at the grave of Lazarus commanded the stone to be rolled away.  Again, how they saw things were how they responded.  It was Martha who spoke up and said, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he had been dead four days,” (John 11:39).

Jesus’ response to her reaction was, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40; see also 25-26).  Jesus’ response was for her to look beyond what she saw, and just believe for more.  Believe that He could do and speak something miraculous in what is dead.  And in Ezekiel’s case, it was believing that that which appears to be dry and beyond repair can now experience a new life.

What are these experiences speaking to you today?  Is God trying to shift our focus from always seeing the negatives?  Is He trying to encourage us to speak life into areas that need such a miracle they appear they could never be resuscitated?

Remember what the Bible says, “(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)”.  Is it time to start seeing beyond?  Is it time to start speaking beyond?  Is it time to start believing beyond?

Wherever and whatever God is calling us to today if He is calling us, it is because He believes that we can.  Even if we do not see immediate changes to our circumstances as they did, keep going in faith and believing, because God applauds and is pleased with genuine faith, for the Bible reminds us, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6).

All the greatest stories in the Bible begin with faith.  And all that faith begins with believing beyond.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

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“Unchanging Joy!”

“The joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Those words penned from Nehemiah 8:10 we generally claim or hear quoted when people are experiencing adversities or may have a monumental task ahead of them.   Sometimes they are even expressed in moments of celebration.  For days of sorrow or for days of peace, any day is a good day where a child of God can declare, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

One thing I have learned in life is that we do go through many different seasons and circumstances.  Some good.  And yet, some which can make one feel a little void or empty.  Happiness and joy can’t seem to be found in any activity or normal pleasure.

During these seasons, one must remember that life will always act as a variable. It may seem a simple thing to say or write, but in the midst of the challenges and sorrows, yes, it is sometimes hard for us to see these truths, therefore, we must be gently reminded of how things really are at times.  And that is life changes.  Things get added and taken away.  Some changes affect how we feel and when we base our feelings on these variables we experience many ups and downs.

What then?  It is the unchanging, the solid, the constant that we need to build everything else upon.  As long as we live in this world things will always change.  One hundred percent of our time will not stay in a state of sameness.  We will have times of exaltation, growth, and increase.  But, we will also experience those things that grieve us, break our hearts, and spend our energies with the multitude of tears flowing from us (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-11).

Therefore, since we are susceptible to these changes we must base our life, our joy, our foundation to everything else upon Him who never changes.

God is our constant!  “For I am the Lord, I change not,” He exclaimed in Malachi 3:6.  We also have this promise written through James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” (James 1:17; emphasis added).

Our Heavenly Father will always be the wonderful, Heavenly Father that He has always been.  No matter how your circumstances may feel to you right now, that truth will never change.

That being said, if the happiness and joy you once felt or usually feel have escaped you today, perhaps it is because we have become more dependent on too many changing factors rather than filling our heart, mind, soul, and life with the true joy of Him and from Him that never changes.

In dealing with many sorrows and afflictions himself, David penned his own beautiful words, declaring the assurance of his joy.  He stated, “And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation,” (Psalm 35:9).

When we bring our all to focus on God… When we tune our souls into the proper source, we will find that situations may still be adverse, but because I have Him, because I have a relationship with God, and because His salvation has raised me from far worse than where my soul would be without Him, I can still rejoice!

I think it’s safe to say that we all want it to feel good all the time.  But feeling good and have everything go our way or turn out just as we desire is not a prerequisite for true joy because those things and feelings will also and always change.  But my God won’t, and when it is He that I open my heart to and allow all that He is to shine on me and everything that I am feeling, then I can experience that true, unchanging joy!

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“Overlooked? Not by God!”

 

Do you ever feel like life is a series of “Duck, Duck, Goose” games?  There you sit in your circle, surrounded by other people.  Then, the opportunity comes.  The one who can tag you as the next one that can rise from the circle begins to make their turn around the circle.  They look at each one sitting and try to take in the possibility of who gets to be the privileged one; who gets to be “goose.”

All eyes and ears are opened to that one.  They watch.  They listen.  They wait in anticipation to see if the chance and opportunity to rise and run falls on them.  As the game proceeds, the favor of that one doesn’t fall on you and you are left to sit in the circle once more.

Times of sitting and waiting is rarely fun unless you see the possible potential that can flow from that downtime.  Often, many people, in many circles, of life are overlooked and passed by without a second glance.  And, while it seems the favor of man has continually ignored and/or snubbed you, in your downtime, there is One who sees.

It’s so easy in life to get caught up and focused on the human to human point of contact and favor.  While a better use of our time, down or not, should be focused on our human to God contact, and the potential of growing more in Him.

While David was a young man in his circle, he was overlooked not only by his brothers but his father too.  When the prophet Samuel came to pay a call to anoint the next one to rise out of the circle, the next one to be king, David wasn’t even thought of when all the sons of the house lined up according to the potential that human eyes could see.

But, in his downtime, there were oodles of potential growing and producing a God-fearing, dedicated life beyond the eyes of what man can see.  In my opinion, it is possible that even David himself didn’t see everything in him like God saw it, for he didn’t force himself to be seen by others and noticed.  It was not until Samuel exhausted all possibilities before him did he bother to ask was there another option.  Was there someone else who should be considered for this great honor?

He heard the whisper of God speak, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:7), and as all the possibilities passed before him, he found out the Lord didn’t choose any one of them, even when man thought and believed they were the logical choice.

No, but in his overlooked season, a heart was developing in David that caught God’s attention when others neglected to see the power of potential growing within him.  A heart that loved God from the inside out.  A heart that was sensitive to the leading and moving of God.  A heart that had faith in God that would allow him to stand before a literal giant and make him fall.  A heart in David was growing and maturing for God alone.  This is what piqued God’s interest in him.  Not the outward stuff that others could see and overlook him for.  But God was excited and drawn to those things on the inside that only He could see.

Height.  Stature.  Good looks.  Outward talent and so forth will all fade and deteriorate over time.  But a heart that is truly after God will last and endure.

What we need to remember and take away from this story is that God sees it all.  Although it is not right, many will continue to judge by only what they see on the exterior of all you have to offer.  But God sees all the possibilities within.  And, although many may overlook you, God has not.

Don’t sit in your circle idly waiting for other’s approval.  Rather, wait on God, and live for Him.  Once again, David didn’t seek their attention.  He was outside with the sheep doing the work he was assigned to do at that time (1 Samuel 16:11) when he was called to be anointed the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13).

Wherever you are in life, keep your focus on God.  Live a life that is pleasing to Him from the inside out.  Worry less about what others think and rest your hope in what God alone sees and knows all about you.  This is not a game to Him, and He will never overlook you!

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“My eyes look to You, Lord!”

“Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” Psalm 123:2

Father God, may our eyes focus more on You than what’s going on around us.  There are so many things pulling for attention.  There are troubles and disappointments that try to take a stand and demand to be noticed.  But Father God, may our eyes and our hearts rest on You and all the promises of heaven through every trying time.  May we see clearly, through it all, You are still for us.  You are He who is daily faithful, and daily offers grace and mercy.  You are where we find the strength to draw from when we feel weak.  When we feel like we’re at the end of our rope, it’s Your Spirit that whispers, “Hold on, for your story is not over.”

Father God, as we lift our eyes and our hearts to You, we place in Your hands our needs, our worries, our hurts, our everything.  You know it all better than we do and it’s in You we put our trust.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray, AMEN!

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“Before there was Egypt, there was a promise!”

Many times when we discuss the land of Egypt within the confines of the Bible, our minds automatically trackback to the time when the children of Israel were in bondage there.  We see them under the weight of the taskmasters, dealing with oppressive circumstances that are beyond their control.  They stand by and watch as some are beaten, others are killed; lack and degrading situations run rampant throughout their time there.  Fear, hatred, and jealousy by others drove them to the place where they are residing; a place where tough days seem like they will never come to an end.

Often times, when people find themselves in a hard spot of life, or when they find themselves coming up short and just not happy with the way things are turning out at this particular time, they refer to that circumstance as their place of “Egypt.”  This is where heartbreak and troubling times lie.  This is the place where it seems everything is fighting against them and no matter what one does it just doesn’t appear that they will ever come out on top.  People may not have taskmaster’s whips to deal with, but other things just lash and lash out at them, making it hard to get back up again.

As hard as this may be to believe, I assure you your Egypt will not last forever.  I’m sure the children of Israel had doubts about this.  After all, their time there lasted about four hundred years.  Yet, even before this family of seventy ventured into the land and grew to the astronomical numbers we see in Exodus, God knew all about their time there before they were even there.

In Genesis 15:13 God told Abram, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.”  Outside of that prophecy God also said, “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance,” (Genesis 15:14).  In this we see, there was a promise before they even set one foot in Egypt; before they even encountered a problem, God already had a blessing lined up for when they came out.

Today, we fight against so many unknowns.  We deal with all the this and that’s of life that it simply just weighs one down.  One might not find themselves in a literal state of captivity, but something just sits on them heavy, becoming an almost unbearable burden, that they just don’t know what to do.  With a feeling of exasperation, some just give up, content just to go through the motions of life, without grabbing hold of the feeling of hope because of the fear of being let down again, just to drift back into that state of uncertainty once more.

But, I am here to tell you today, continue hoping and never give up.  Your “Egypt” is not lost on God.  God knows what you are facing.  He knows every disappointment you are dealing with.  He knows every struggle you are battling.  He knows everything that you are fighting through and that’s fighting against you.

It may be hard to see the proverbial silver lining in a dark cloud at times or the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have something better.  We have a promise!  God told Abram when his people came out, they were coming out better than when they went in.  God was going to judge those who did them wrong, and God was going to bless them greatly.

Another promise Abram received was in a few verses prior to those noted above.  God told him, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be,” (Genesis 15:5).  Not only were they going to be blessed, but they were going to come out increased in the people they were.  To go from one individual to the millions they would come out to be, they were going to grow not only in number but in experience through their troubling times.  They would have to learn to endure some stuff in order to be the people who would eventually be fit to take on the Promised Land.

While it may at times seem like the hard times are breaking you, they may be actually making you.  So remember, before there was Egypt, there was a promise.  And, I don’t know about you, but I will take a promise of God over a so-called silver lining any day.  The promises of God are sure.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we are told, “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us,” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

In other words, no matter what you are facing today, Jesus has you covered.  No matter the obstacles or hard places that make you feel like you are in Egypt and you just want to give up, God has an unfailing promise of His love, grace, mercy, peace, and deliverance through even the most difficult circumstances.

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“You are not alone!”

There can be days when the heaviness of life just won’t seem to let up.  There can be times when burdens leave you spent and wrung like a dirty little dish rag.  And, sometimes it’s hard during these down times to find something to smile about; to find hope in the midst of darkness; to know that you are not forgotten in the middle of the mess.

But, no matter what you may be feeling or going through, Jesus wants you to know, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you,” John 14:18.  He wants you to know that you are not in this alone.  His presence refuses to turn His back on you.  His presence doesn’t want you carrying these troubles by yourself.  His promise says that He cannot leave you without comfort.  You and I are not without the love of the Father present with us.  He said, “I will come to you!”

Our Lord Jesus Christ will not abandon you to deal with life on your own!  He is your help in the neediest of times!  He is your strength in the weakest of times!  He is your source in the emptiest of times!  He will not turn away from you!  He went to the cross for you that He might ever be with you!  He’s with you in the midst of it all to ease the turmoil you may be feeling.  He is with you to console raging emotions and thoughts.  He is with you to support you when nobody else will.  He is with you to show you how the love of the Father is very real and active for you!

He does this all through His abiding Spirit.  His loving presence takes up residence on the inside of those who believe in Him.  He is in there to fill any emptiness one may feel.  He is there to bring healing to the hurt and damage inflicted by others.  He is there to walk with you through all the ups and downs of this life, no matter how difficult it may appear right now!

He is with us as the rescuer of our heart, meeting the spiritual need in our life that nobody else can.  We don’t have to wonder about it because Hebrews 13:5 assures us, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Did you see that word “never”?  By absolutely no means will He not ever be with you where you are and in what you are going through!  It can’t happen!  It won’t happen!  He loves you too much to leave you out there to deal with this world and this life on your own!

With confidence, let your prayer be, “Jesus, I need you,” and His promise stands sure that He is with you where you are through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit.  You are not fighting this alone!  Every step of the way, He is there!

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” Deuteronomy 31:6.

“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” Matthew 28:20b

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“Better Days are Coming!”

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zechariah 9:9)

What do you do when you look around and all you see is a mess?  Nothing is as you’d hoped it would be.  Life all of sudden doesn’t seem to make sense.  You’re glad for where you are and what you have, but you also recognize in the midst of circumstances the discouraging realization that you still have so far to go.

Boy, if that doesn’t ring true for what many are experiencing today.  One day we went to bed and everything was normal.  Then, just as quickly, it seems we woke up to a new reality and everything was different.  Everything was harder than it was the day before.  Where there was once freedom, now a new reality of limitations and restrictions has taken over.

What does all this have to do with the above verse?  Simply this.  In the time of Zechariah’s prophecy, the children of Israel had returned home from Babylonian captivity some 15-20 years prior.  Even at this point in history, when they look around they still see nothing but the marks of destruction; they still see broken walls and broken dreams in the land, and discouragement was running rampant.

But in the midst of that discouragement, Zechariah brings a word of hope from the Lord regarding their future.

What seems to be their new reality is not all there is.  They might not understand their times of walking through the rubble and living in the ruins of their former life, but God has something – God has Someone coming on the horizon who is going to usher in the greatest story of rebuilding and restoration the world has ever seen or known.

Although God delivered His people from Babylonian captivity and brought them back to their homeland to start living and inhabiting it again, He is not as interested in their physical buildings that lay in rubble.  He is more concerned with their spiritual buildings, their hearts, that may have collected just as much dust in them as the ruins around them.

Therefore, through Zechariah’s prophecy, God focuses His people to not dwell on the mess of today, but rather, focus on the message for all the tomorrows to come.  For that’s where they and we will find hope for the future.

Zechariah lets them know better days are coming because there is a coming King like no other.  When He comes in, His appearance and riding may appear to the masses as lowly.  But this King’s reign will be a reason to rejoice in the midst of rubble and ruins.  The King’s coming would be a reason to shout because true salvation and deliverance have never been so close.  This King’s coming will be a reason to celebrate in full jubilation, and to shout, “Hosanna in the highest,” (Mark 11:8) because when He comes, victory comes with Him.  When He comes, restoration comes with Him.  When He comes, better days come with Him!

The triumphal entry of our Lord was prophesied hundreds of years before it occurred, and still brings a message of hope to us who hear it thousands of years later because it reminds us in the face of all the turmoil this world was bound up in, Jesus marched forth toward His destiny of the cross to bring more peace and victory than we could ever hope to receive on our own.   And, although things may not seem to be the way we planned or look how we envisioned, with Him as our hope and guide, we can be assured that if nothing stopped Him from moving forward into the hardest thing He would ever face just so that we all would have a better future, then nothing will stop Him now from being that source of faith that many so long for.

Even in the midst of adversity and hardship, Jesus is still riding in our lives with a message of hope and peace today.  Days and circumstances may seem discouraging, but you’re not riding through them alone.

When He came in on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, “many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.  And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.  Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:8-10).  But we know His story didn’t stop there.  In Zechariah’s prophecy, He is also seen as the One who subdues enemies and brings everlasting peace for His people.

When Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of riding in on the donkey He didn’t stop there for you either.  He came to usher so much more in your life and mine.  Where do you find yourself today?  For many that question may bring some very difficult answers.  Although the answers may appear difficult and we may not find an immediate solution to those answers, one thing we can do is still celebrate this day in victory, by faith,  as we would any other Palm Sunday.  We may not be in physical church buildings, gathering together and shouting the victory, but I believe where we are we can set aside some time to still proclaim, “Hosanna in the highest!” because that day was not the end of His story, neither is it the end of ours.

What we are facing today cannot diminish His promises for all our tomorrows to come.  If He already walked into the hardest thing for us, surely He will see us to a victorious ending.  It may not always feel like it, and what’s going on around us may make many sway, but rest assured, what’s going on does not have the last word.  Jesus rode in victory and through His resurrection power (which we celebrate next week for Easter Sunday), He remains victorious today and forevermore!  Therefore, even if we can’t see it right now we know that better days are coming!

So hold on, my friends.  Don’t let what you see today make you question your tomorrows.  Nobody loves you like that same Jesus who rode in to save your life and mine.  The King has come once, and He’s coming back again.  Victory is His, and victory can be yours too.  One day this will all be over (both now, and in eternity), and every promise He rode in for will come to pass (2 Corinthians 1:20).  How can it get any better than that!

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“Plant Kindness”

“Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesian 4:32)

Is kindness a lost art?  The world, with its troubles and woes, has hardened so many.  Where is the tenderhearted?  Where are those who will show compassion to their brother and sister?  Where are those who forward their rights to let another pass freely?

Kindness is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) not grown on many trees these days.  A fruit forgotten in the “go get’m” mentality of many.

But kindness, if properly nourished, can transform lives and branch out beyond the individual.  Its seeds can blow in the wind and land on others, causing this precious fruit to plant, root, and grow farther than before, taking over the land of darkness to show His marvelous light.

Be kind.  Let tenderness grow where hardness tries to invade.  Give space for love to flourish.

Remember, you have been forgiven, dear friend.  The ultimate gift of kindness has been extended to your very soul.  Sow worthy fruit of that great gift.  Sow fruit that will last into eternity.  Sow fruit that will gain a heart to know Him through you.  Sow fruit that lets another know they are loved, they matter, and they, too, are important.

The flourishing of kindness makes a greater impact than the ugly fruit of hatefulness.

The sprouting of kindness pokes its head out of dismal soil, and says, “Friend, I see you as a person and I care about you.”

When kindness grows to be the biggest tree in all the forest, it overshadows and outshines everything else and shows others this is how we stand, live, and love.

What you plant today will grow tomorrow.  Why not plant something beautiful?  Plant kindness.

 

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Sunday School Lesson – “Count it All Joy!” James 1:1-12

VERSE DISCOVERY: James 1:1-12 (KJV, Public Domain)

What do you do when life doesn’t seem to want to play fair?  When all the boxes don’t check off in all the right places and everything seems out of whack – what do you do?

For some, remaining optimistic during trials is harder than others.  Firstly, every trial that every individual person deals with is not the same.  Some things that may be troubling to one, but in reality, is only a minor inconvenience and annoyance, to others, they may be battling tooth and nail to keep their head above the water of the adversity they are facing.

Then, we have each person’s natural dispositions on how they specifically handle tumultuous events.  Where one sees the dark clouds others can readily point out the silver lining.

For those whom James was addressing in his letter, he knew they were being hounded by real troubles and not just a matter of inconvenience.  He knew of the hardships and oppression they were experiencing.  Yet, through it all, he wanted these believers to focus on the positive fruit all the things they were experiencing in their life could produce.

Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work

James 1:1-4 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.  My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

This “James”, who addresses himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” is supposed by many to be the actual brother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While Jesus was going about fulfilling His earthly ministry, his brothers were not part of those who supported that ministry (see John 7:3-5).  As a matter of fact, it is supposed that it wasn’t until after he had seen the risen Lord for himself, that James, the natural, half-brother of Jesus Christ, believed and became a follower and a leader in the early church (1 Corinthians 15:7; Acts 1:14).

Which is why he is writing this letter “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”  As a leader in the early church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:13-22), his care for members of the body of Christ is evident in the time and care he takes to write to them about their personal growth in the Lord, the discipline of the faith, conducting personal behaviors pleasing to the Lord, and yes, remaining hopeful in the midst of it all.

In this section of Scripture, James didn’t downplay the suffering some were experiencing.  Rather, he encouraged them to remain focused on what truly matters.  Therefore, he begins this letter by admonishing then to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”

“Count it all joy” – when you really think about that statement, it’s naturally a very difficult thing to do.  It’s very similar to the Apostle Paul’s teaching to which he says, “In every thing give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Those words “all” and “every thing” can encompass a great many circumstances.  Circumstances that wouldn’t need encouragement to remain joyful and thankful if they weren’t adverse.  Nobody needs to be encouraged to be happy when they are already happy.  It’s when things become hard and unbearable that leaders such as James try to cheer them on to see that silver lining in a dark cloud.

James goes on to say, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” or, various trials.  You know what, I have given birth to four different children and each labor experience was different.  Some were scary, some were painful, some were eventful, while others were uneventful.  No two were alike.  Each one was different.  During one, I thought I was going to lose that baby, and during one, my own health was compromised.

But life is like that.  The degrees and variables surrounding each hardship are unique to that particular time, place, situation, and person.  They all don’t come packed in the same neat packaging, for if they did, we could really prepare our actions and reactions to each case.  Trials come looking and feeling many ways and sometimes it’s hard getting a grip on it all and adjusting one’s mindset to see the positive.

But James didn’t focus on the many things people see, feel, and experience now.  He focused on the many things it would produce.

First, he said, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”  If you have ever exercised with resistance bands, you know how difficult it can be.  You are using your own body’s strength, be it little or big, to purposely add pressure and pull to an already hard work out.

The “trying of our faith” is working for us, for our good, even though it seems to be opposing us.  That which is hard to deal with is actually teaching us in a way that an easy path, with no resistance, ever could.  It is producing in us virtues and spiritual fruit (Romans 5:3-6) that really will have no way of growing in us if it were not for the adverse circumstances we become occasionally planted in.

Here, in James’ teaching, he is showing them the flip side of what they are feeling.  He’s showing them that what they are going through, those things that feel like they are wearing their faith down, is actually producing “patience” in them.  This patience is all about endurance.  One will never know how to go through hardships and stand if they have never been given the opportunity to exercise that faith and endure.

We read about Bible characters and their stories, and we think, oh, put me in the lion’s den, or let me at Goliath, or some other situation alike, and I know what to do because the Bible tells us what they did.  When reading the lives in these stories, we must not become desensitized to the power and faith it took for an individual to keep remaining true to their faith despite a death threat or to face a monster of a man on the battlefield.  Until we have our own Nebuchadnezzar to stand before with the resolve to refuse to bow and worship a false image, no matter how hot the situation was getting, we will never know what it’s like to endure trials such as these that build our faith unless we go through it for ourselves.

“But let patience have her perfect work.”  If you want to grow and produce things conducive to strong faith, then let that same patience work it out in you.  Every Christian should strive for mature, tested, and tried fruit of these spiritual disciplines to be produced in their life.

Every day we should want to do better and to be better, but a lot of that will never come to be unless we work at letting “patience have her perfect work.”  Then, will we grow, being “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” in the development of our Christian character, now being ripe fruit, fit for the Master’s use.

Ask in Faith and Don’t Waver

James 1:5-8 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

“Faith” is a key factor in this opening of James’ letter.  In the trying and in the producing, faith comes to the forefront of a must-have list.

“Wisdom” is needed in so many areas of life.  Proper wisdom is needed all the more when facing opposition.  Wisdom is one of the best tools one should have in their arsenal when navigating or combatting trying times.

Previously I wrote,

“Strength and weapons are carnal devices that depend on fleshly know-how and might.  Often these are the first resources that man runs to in times of difficulty and adversity.  Wisdom is dependent upon God.  ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction,’ Proverbs 1:7.

Would it not be more prudent in the days of trials to follow the path of wisdom whose Author is God?” (Wisdom is Better/Word for Life Says).

James said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.”  It is very possible to be in the midst of contentions and not know what to do or how to respond.  God has opened Himself up to us to receive what we need to succeed in this Christian journey.  The Apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ original disciples, wrote, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:3; emphasis mine) and that includes wisdom.  God gives it to the one who asks, but when he or she asks, it must be done in “faith.”

Faith supports faith.  The one here, who is in a trial and dealing with contentions because of their faith, are to ask in faith, of the Father, for the proper wisdom of how to continue forward in their faith while going through.

Steadfast, believing faith is necessary for every aspect of our Christian walk.  To “waver” in that is to sway in that belief and in the one who is the Author of that belief.

James gives the picture of this one being “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”  I love the ocean.  I love the beach.  When vacationing, it’s one of my favorite places to visit.  One of the things I most enjoy while there is standing on the shoreline and watching the waves come in and go out.  The ebb and flow of the waters are always moving, never still, and never steady.

While beautiful to look at in nature, in our Christian character that’s not what we’re looking for.  We want to be rooted and grounded in what we believe and whom we believe – that He is able to answer our prayers and give us the wisdom we need.  To shun that, through not asking in faith, is to shun the benefits one would have received otherwise.

James warns, “For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”  Too many are living the faith they profess to have without living in complete faith and assurance in the “Lord.”  It may be possible for people to live in compliance with regulations of the faith and have the spirit of faith missing.

This one has a divided mindset.  James considers them to be a “double minded man” who is “unstable in all his ways.”  If he or she can’t get off the fence here, before the very foundation of their faith, when praying and asking of God, other areas of life are guaranteed to be constantly shifting and fluctuating as well, being blown about in uncertainty.

But for the one, who in complete faith, is asking God for wisdom, God will give it “liberally” and “it shall be given him.”  Wow!  What a promise!

Endure, There is an Eternal Reward

James 1:9-12 “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.  For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.  Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”

Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter.  Everyone will experience trials.  And, everyone can be taught valuable lessons through those trials.  All social classes and backgrounds can find joy during times of adversity.

How is that?

James explains it like this.  For the poor, or him of “low degree,” such a one can “rejoice in that he is exalted.”  This one’s “right now status” does not determine their joy in life.

It is easy to see the ones without… without as much as others, without as many financial resources, without proper education, and anything else this world stores up as markers for success and happiness.

This one may think he is justified in being sullen, withdrawn, and living a pity-party lifestyle that no one wants to attend.  Contrarily, James points out the opposite.  Regardless of what he has or didn’t have; no matter how others view his lowliness, or even how he views himself, James declares that joy and rejoicing should still be found in his heart because of the God whom he has placed his trust in, and not his haves and have nots.

In this, too, he can “rejoice.”  When it’s all said and done, when he parts from this world, it is God who will “exalt” him to the things he has never seen with human eyes or even imagined (compare 1 Corinthians 2:9).  He may not have as much as another, but in his trials and temptations, he can still count it all joy!

When Jesus was teaching the Beatitudes, at the end of all those “blessed are” statements that would point out circumstances in which one wouldn’t normally find joy in, Jesus speaks these words: “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven,” (Matthew 5:12).  His comments were spoken in relation to being persecuted, something James’ readers are all too familiar with, yet, what He points out is that even in that hardship, Jesus Himself said, “Rejoice!”

And, He wasn’t teaching anything contrary to what He Himself was not willing to do.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”

As those who are linked to Him in faith, James said every believer can count it all joy no matter their privileged or underprivileged status and life.

And the “rich” are to remember, in humility, that though they may have a lot right now, their days are moving just as fast as anyone else’s in this lifespan each of us has been allotted.  Life is a vapor, here today, gone tomorrow (James 4:14).

“As the flower of the grass he shall pass away.”  Riches cannot increase his time or secure him a better end.  He, too, must depend on the same salvation, the same saving grace, as one who may be without and lacking.  The businesses, the homes, the money – nothing he has accumulated in this life will account for anything in eternity.  Outside of Christ, low or high, rich or poor, we are all nothing.

So, when this one faces trials and temptations, he too can count it all joy for he is made keenly aware that his days and life here are very brief.  That awareness brings him “low”; it centers and focuses him on what matters the most.

Both types of trials and temptations are a gift for they both, whether for the rich or poor, should keep us before the Lord in humility and dependence.  Not a one has a reason to glory in his own flesh or circumstances.  Before God, it’s the heart of the man that matters the most.  Not what he has or doesn’t have.

James adds, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.”  Counting it all joy is not because we have avoided temptations and trials from ever happening to us.  Counting it all joy for the blessedness that is ours for enduring the times of testing they brought.

Even Jesus was tried, tested, and tempted.  Hebrews reminds us again, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15).

Endure!

Let patience have her perfect work!  Because in the end, when the trials and trying times are all over with, that one that was “tried” and endured with faith intact through it – that one “shall receive the crown of life.”

Now, that’s real success.  That’s the real goal.  That’s the real reason to be happy when troubles just won’t seem to let up.

At one point or another, and many times in between, we are all going to be touched by the finger of adversity.  But, as the Word of God declares, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,” (Matthew 24:13).

Don’t lose your joy!  There is a “crown of life” waiting for you with your name on it.  We are going through and enduring because there is a prize laid up for us at the end of this race (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Your running is not in vain.  Your joy is not in vain.  The “Lord” has “promised” this wonderful gift “to them that love him.”

it is spoken.  It is written.  It is ours if we remain in our holy joy and keep pushing for it and not giving up.

The opposite of the joy we are called to have is words like misery, sadness, and the like.  When one keeps swimming in the pools of these waters, they will soon feel overcome by the displeasure found there, let go of their grip, and drown.

Life may not be perfect but maintaining your spiritual joy will keep you buoyant in the murkiest of waters.

So, count it all joy!

PDF Printable Sunday School Lesson Pack (With easy to read instructions following the P.E.A.R.L. format on how to conduct each lesson with areas for adding personal notes): Sunday School Lesson – Count it All Joy

Suggested Activities:

Lesson Lead In/Happy or Sad Activity: Print out one happy face and one sad face (you can just do one set for the teacher or multiple sets so that each student can have their own). Attach the faces to craft sticks. Prepare a list of things that might make one happy or sad (finding money, losing a tooth, receiving an unexpected gift, losing a puppy, etc.). Ask the class, using the faces, to show how each thing listed would make them feel, and why? Then ask, Is it possible to feel joy even in sad times? (Give them space to answer.)

Use this as a lead in to the lesson. Say, James wrote to people during a very hard time in life and one of the things he did was encouraged them to count it all joy. This concept is difficult for some adults to grasp, let alone children. Let them know a Christian’s joy is never based on the goodness of their circumstances. Rather, their joy is based on the goodness of God, who will give us the wisdom we need to make it through hard times.

Frown Upside Down Craft: Make your own frowning face that can be turned upside down to make a smiling face. If you don’t know how to do this, search the internet for great examples. Use this as a supplement to the lesson Count it All Joy.

Adult Journal Page: Adult Journal Page – Count it All Joy

Kid’s Journal Page: Kid’s Journal Page – Count it All Joy

Blank Journal Pages: Blank Adult and Kid’s Journal Pages (These pages are great to use with the other journaling exercise provided in the PEARL lesson packet or to use to bring out any other area of the lesson you choose to focus on.  Enjoy!)

Draw the Scene: Count it All Joy Draw the Scene

Word Search: Count it All Joy Word Search  Answers: Count it All Joy Word Search Answers

Crossword: Count it All Joy Crossword  Answers: Count it All Joy Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Count it All Joy Word Scramble  Answers: Count it All Joy Word Scramble Answers 

Copyright © Word For Life Says.com (Sharing any posts or lessons can only be done through the share buttons provided on this site from the original posts, lessons, and articles only. You can reblog from the original posts only using the reblog button provided, or share using the share buttons provided from these social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, etc., and they must be shared from the original posts only. All other repostings are prohibited. Posts and other items of interest found on this site may not be copied and pasted, downloaded, uploaded, etc to another website or entity not listed (physical or electronic). See COPYRIGHT PAGE for more details.