Sunday, February 10, 2013

my cup runneth over

The first chapter in James is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  We dove into this book during one of my previous Bible studies (Beth Moore's: Mercy Triumphs).  It also happened to occur at a time in life when we felt blown away by trial and hardship.  My son had been diagnosed with a chronic illness and had been in three different hospitals over the course of three weeks.  Life as we knew it was severely altered as we found ourselves adjusting to a new way of living.  I suddenly became a homeschooling mom of three trying to find balance, manage my son's health, and adjust to a new way of life in more ways than one, and with very limited resources.  Financially and circumstantially we were at our worst, and life seemed to be unraveling quickly.  We were left to do nothing but hold onto our faith as a thread of hope, and learn to trust God in all our weakness and lacking.

"Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James 1:2-4

I had many moments where I was able to do this.  I could see the hand of God over and in and through our circumstances and I counted that as joy.  But those moments of joy didn't seem to "stick" as I went about my days and months and the hardship continued.  Yet, I was left no other choice but to persevere through it.  Some days, it was all I could do to just survive through a day without melting down into a puddle of doubt and discouragement.  I longed for the joy to move permanently into my heart and not just act as a guest coming and going at its own leisure.  I wanted to experience the joy in the midst of my circumstances and not just in hindsight view.

Even though our trials and difficult circumstances still exist today, the testing of my faith has built up spiritual muscle that is allowing me to view my life from a divinely different lens.  A perspective that is able to distinguish and value the gifts that are being gained from our low positioning.  And I wouldn't exchange this positioning for any "best earthly outcome," for the gifts are far richer and lasting from this posture.

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position..."
James 1:9

In the past I could look at this passage and only wonder and fantasize how this could really be true.  I now understand this verse to my core.  I've found that in our seasons of need we are given a blessed opportunity to see God moving and working in more recognizable ways than we would see in our plenty.  It's in our helplessness that He becomes more visible.  And isn't that what we all inwardly and deeply desire more than anything?  To see Him.  And to know Him.  More than we already do now?

The testing of our faith, the hardships, the suffering, and the trials, all give us an opportunity to have a front row seat to God's Big Show.  And what a display He makes when you are closest to the stage and part of His act.  With perseverance, it slowly becomes reality that your trials indeed make you mature and complete, not lacking anything.  For in Him, you find your everything.

My heart is so full.  I've been riding on a God-high for some time now.  Each day a new gracefall rains down on my heart.  Living waters.  Fountains found in Him.  Spirit alive and afresh.  Active and moving.  I may be "lacking" in an earthly sense, but I feel rich in spirit.  Perseverance leads to spiritual richness, which leads to hope, which leads to deepened belief.  It's a direct effect, and there is no way around it at times.  And when you believe God and His promises, and finally begin to take Him at His word, your trials appear to diminish as He becomes center-stage in your life.  And applause in Him drowns out the cry of worry and despair in you.

On a minuscule level, I got a taste of this today.  My husband has been away on a well-needed and deserved guys weekend up north.  The kids and I had a packed weekend with other weekend-widowed women and their kids.  There were the usual moments of stress found in taking on the tasks of single-parenthood for these past few days, but nothing unmanageable.  Even those moments were wrapped up in fun and activity and fellowship.  This morning on my way to church, I was feeling a bit of pride that I had successfully bathed and gotten all three kids and I ready and out the door with even a few minutes to spare.  I had time to get gas, but was going to have to forego my "plain black coffee with a splash of skim milk" Sunday Starbucks splurge.  While caffeine has a divine place in my life, it was nothing to lose heart over.

On the expressway my car urgently dinged and a light flashed on my dashboard indicating my tire pressure was low.  I was not even to the exit ramp when I heard the rumbling and felt the wobbling of flat tire to pavement, trying to flatten my spirit.  I managed to maneuver the car into crawling mode off the exit ramp and onto the main street (easy access to be rescued!) I was about to call a friend at church to see if she could come bail us out in our moment of distress, when a car immediately pulled up beside me and asked if we needed help.  I proceeded to call my friend, who wasn't available, while the car offering help pulled up in front of me on the shoulder of the road.  A nicely dressed man got out of his car and came over to the driver's side of mine.  He asked if I had a spare tire and offered to put it on for me.  By the way he was dressed, I assumed he was on his way to church and told him that I didn't want to make him and his family late if that was where they were heading.  He said they had just come from church and were off to run some errands.  Left with no other choice, I humbly and gratefully accepted.

While embarrassingly rummaging through the mountain of "stuff" that piled high in the back end of our car covering the spare tire compartment, the man told me that his wife thought I looked familiar.  She told him to ask me if I knew someone that she knew.  Turns out, I did.  It was her best friend of 15 years and a friend of mine who had gone to our church and was actually in our Home Group before her and her family moved away.  What a small world...(or rather, a Big God.)

Moments later, a police officer rolled up behind us and asked if we needed assistance.  He stayed there with us and chatted while the man worked off my deflated tire and proceeded to put on my rubber doughnut replacement.  Turns out, the police officer used to attend our church before moving to the north side.  In addition, the police officer's wife was the preschool teacher of the man's daughter.  We were all strangely connected in some way.  Coincidence? I think not.  The officer stayed with us the whole time.  He gave me a business card and offered for me to call the station and have him dispatched if I wanted him to follow me home or had any trouble along the way.  I felt thankful and well-taken care of.  Under the umbrella of His care.

I sat there on the side of the road counting this little mishap all as joy.  It totally put me in an even better mood than the one I was in when I walked out my door 30 minutes prior.  I marveled on the roadside and thanked God for this opportunity.  It gave me the chance to witness His hand moving in even these humble circumstances.  What the devil intended for harm this morning, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).  It only boosted me up closer to Him, and better prepared me to walk into church with evidences of Him written all over my heart and my circumstance.  Belief strengthened yet again.  Joy in the midst...what I had been craving.

Trials, even the speed-bumps and flat tires of life, are perfect opportunities to drive us to God.  Through each one that comes my way, I'm learning to search Him out in the midst.  And the more I search, the more of Him I find (Jeremiah 29:13).  He's wonder-working everywhere if we just take on the eyes to see.

Testing leads to perseverance.  The Greek word for testing is "peirazo," which means, "to make proof of."  Our trials make proof of our God.  The Greek word for perseverance is "hupomone."  This means, "to abide under, to bear up under burden, remaining under."  When we faithfully persevere, we choose to trustfully remain under Him.  Our steadfast and staying power.

And as if I didn't need any more reason to count this all as joy, I walked into church 15 minutes late to find a coffee station set up and a full carafe calling out my name.

It's in the big, and the little, we are given the chance to "count it all as joy."

Today, my cup runneth over...

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