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Friday, February 16, 2018

Rejoice in Suffering

by Nicky Smith

James says, "Count it all joy when you meet various trials." (James 1:2)

Recently as I was going through a specific trial the Spirit said to me: "Rejoice in your trials." I wondered how I can do this because my trial wasn't something in which I was finding much happiness. I kept pondering it. Later I had another trial which caused me to experience great pain in my heart. It literally hurt and the pain was so great I couldn't breathe. Very quickly I felt consumed by the pain. I couldn't think. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I prayed but struggled to connect to God because all I could feel and think about was the pain in my heart. I wondered how I can rejoice in this when I feel this way. The next day as I was praying and as I gained a bit more in control of my pain, I learned some things about rejoicing in painful trials.


The Necessity of Self Control

Pain is a response to a negative situation or experience. This pain results from false beliefs or weakness we have (which in turn results from false beliefs). Allowing the pain to consume us is never the right thing. When we allow the pain to become dominant in our lives, it forms a barrier between God and us. We can't hear his voice when all we focus on is the pain. We have to exercise self-control by acknowledging the pain of an experience and then putting that pain in a box to the side (which does not mean eliminating the pain, because that requires changing our beliefs and overcoming our weaknesses). Putting a boundary on our pain means we can continue to call on God and hear his voice, as well as function in daily life through tending to all our responsibilities, despite the pain. 

Controlling the pain requires that we also control our thoughts, because if we let our minds focus on how terrible the situation is, those thoughts quickly spiral out of control which leads to an inability to control the pain and the result is often self-pity (see this post on self-pity). It is so easy for us to allow our sadness to become despair and once we do, it is hard to escape it. However, if we exercise self-control, we can feel pain and sadness, but not feel consumed by it. It's not that we are ignoring the pain but rather, that we don't allow ourselves to wallow in it. 

8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
Feeling pain or sadness is normal. In fact, they are essential for helping us learn and grow. However, we cannot let those things control us. The more we focus on them, the more we given them power over us, in that pain skews our sense of reality and our decisions are impacted. When I focus on my pain, I quickly forget the purpose of the trials and what God is trying to accomplish through them and that they really are for my good. I find that when I allow sadness to consume me, I end up doing something that further isolates me from God and my faith decreases. It also often leads me to do things that cause pain and sadness in others, because I may do or say something I shouldn't.

Having self-control during a difficult trial is hard. We can cry to God to help us develop this self-control. As I have asked God to help me have self-control, he has given me just the right experiences and has taught me how to do it. Relying on God to aid us is essential. It is rare that we will successfully navigate a trial without fully depending on him.  


Rejoice and Joy

Controlling the pain is not sufficient to learn what we need to learn in the trial. With not letting the pain consume us, we are able to learn to rejoice in the trial. Rejoice means to celebrate something, or to see the good in a situation or experience. It is different to simply experiencing the emotion of happiness or joy, because rejoicing involves an attitude of mind and heart regarding our trials. As James said, we count or view our experiences as a joy (James 1:2). In other words, rejoicing requires we see things in a particular way that allows us to become open to God giving us joy, not that we immediately experience joy. It entails changing our perspective on our trials that lead eventually to feeling joy. In fact, Paul in addressing those who minister the gospel, wrote that they can be "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing." (2 Corinthians 6:10) Sorrow and rejoicing can coexist. However, we ought to consider the root of our sadness and whether it is based on the sins and suffering of others, or if it is based on our not having the life and experiences we desire.

Rejoicing involves desiring (not simply accepting) God's purposes in the suffering we experience. Rejoicing means we feel grateful for God's plan for our lives, knowing he is allowing us to experience exactly what we need to draw nearer to him. Rejoicing involves praising God for his involvement and help in your life. Rejoicing entails totally surrendering our lives to God and trusting that the experiences we are having will work our for our good, as we obey him. Rejoicing entails using our trials to become pure, instead of simply trying to get through them, with little or no benefit to our relationship with God. Rejoicing means opening our hearts to feel God's peace, comfort, and love. 


Peter states that we can rejoice in God's blessings and in how he is preserving us (as we turn to him), knowing that these trials try and increase our faith:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1, emphasis added)
Rejoicing is very difficult if we allow painful thoughts and emotions to consume us. However, once we have those controlled, we can then change our attitude that leads us to rejoice and become open to eventually feeling joy. 

Finding Comfort in Knowing the Purpose of a Trial

So much of rejoicing is about how we see our situation. As we see the trial as God sees it, rejoicing is a natural response. Consider standing in the rain. This has the potential to make you feel miserable. You may feel cold, lonely, and dejected. However, if you understand that standing in the rain is God's will for you at that time and that through standing in the rain you can learn to better trust God and overcome your sins and weaknesses, you can not only be grateful for the rain but, you can desire the rain. In fact, if you know how much you need the rain, you will ask for the rain. And, through knowing these things, you can feel comfort and joy from standing in the rain. 


When Job had everything he loved taken from him, his wife thought it better for Job to curse God and die. Yet, Job understood the necessity of opposition. He understood the need for pain and loss. He understood that just as we ought to be grateful for God's providence, we ought to be grateful for the trials he allows us to have too. 
9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2)
Recently I have experienced another trial. As the trial began I thought about what God had taught me about rejoicing in my trials and I exercised self-control over my pain. I can see how my pain is in fact a sign to me that I have a weakness to overcome (just as physical pain often indicates that something is wrong with our bodies). Controlling my thoughts and emotions allowed me to focus on God's will and how he wants me to act. It allowed me to objectively examine my weakness and work on overcoming it through experiencing the trial. Despite the difficulty of the trial, through rejoicing, I was better able to connect with God and increase my faith in him. It also allowed me to see God's purposes in everything and express gratitude for God's hand in my life. 

Learning to rejoice is a process. I know I may fail at times, but I can immediately repent and continue walking forward. I hope that I can eventually rejoice always, no matter the experience. As Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4, emphasis added) Here are some things to remember to help you (and me) rejoice always:


DON'T BE SURPRISED AT THE TRIALS YOU FACE

There have been times where I can see God has warned me that I would experience a particular trial and I am still surprised it actually happened. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) I have found that if I am surprised that I am going through a specific trial, it is harder for me to control the pain and my thoughts. 

TRUST THAT GOD IS ALLOWING WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU

The trials we experience are to help us overcome our weaknesses and sins (see Romans 5:3-5). God allows us to experience the perfect tailor-made afflictions so that we can increase our faith and become pure. Trust God is in all things. Peter wrote, “Let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19) As I trust that God is giving the precise experiences I need to grow, I am more open to rejoicing in my trials. 

MOVE AWAY FROM HEDONISM AND SEEK THE SUFFERING

So many of our ideals in this world involve avoiding pain and seeking a comfortable, pleasurable life. Without the trials though, we cannot spiritually progress. Paul wrote, "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." (1 Timothy 5:6) A couple years ago when I really learned the necessity of my trials and my desire to do God's will and become pure in this life became my focus, I began praying for the trials I need in order to progress. Even though the trials rip my heart apart, I want them because I know I need them. 

DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR TRIALS
Complaining (to God or others) about our experiences because they are so hard leads us unable to feel grateful for the path God wants us on. It shows our lack of faith and trust in God. It is evidence that our will is not aligned with God's will. Paul wrote,
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2)
I realized recently that in my complaining about my trials, I couldn't surrender my heart to God. I couldn't use the trials to overcome my weaknesses. I am now trying to complain less and to feel gratitude and trust God more. 

REALIZE YOUR SUFFERING BINDS YOU TO CHRIST
Our trials bind us to Jesus in a way that isn't possible outside of suffering. Peter declared, "But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing." (1 Peter 4:13) As I have accepted God's will in my suffering and said, "Let thy will be done, Father" I have felt a greater connection to Jesus. I see myself laying myself on an altar and offering my heart and will as a sacrifice to God in my trials. 


We are not going to feel joy every moment of the day, because sometimes we will feel sad, but we still have to rejoice. This requires we have self-control, which is acquired through relying on God and practice. Rejoicing then involves desiring God's will and trusting in him that he is in control in your life. Rejoicing includes feeling a deep sense of gratitude for our experiences and praising God for them. As we change our attitudes and behaviors regarding adversity, we can "glory in tribulations" (Romans 5:3) and open our hearts to feeling joy. 

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