“Sorrowful yet always rejoicing . . . .”
II Corinthians 6:10
After counseling for more than two-and-a-half-decades, I continue to be amazed by the plethora of ways the Holy Spirit can minister to the brokenness of people. Because of His willingness to meet us in our suffering—as in, He never says, “Come back when you’ve got your act together!” –we can approach God in full confidence that He will meet us according to our every need through Christ.
This truth has been borne out in both sessions with Lisa.* In our first meeting, where there was an air of uncertainty as to whether meeting online could truly minister to Lisa’s brokenness—God proved Himself faithful. Lisa left the session realizing that as she determined to trust God with her pain, hope dawned in her perspective. She didn’t leave that session with answers to her many questions but Lisa left with that biblical peace that defies human understanding.**
In our second session, there was an eagerness on both our parts to learn how He was going to lead as our God of Hope. The underlying question that carried over from our first meeting was,
Why? Why had her son died of a drug overdose?
It seemed almost cruel that after surrendering his heart to Christ
and having distanced himself from the drug scene,
that in a moment of weakness
her son had succumbed to the very thing
that had brought him to Christ.
As Lisa and I talked, one thought she raised that appeared to ease her pain was that, “If he was headed back into drug addiction, I am grateful he was spared the torment of it.”
Looking to bring God into our conversation, I asked Lisa to open her Bible to the first chapter in James to gain insight into God’s perspective and purpose when suffering impacts our lives. I prayed as Lisa read:
“Consider it all joy, my brothers (my sisters) whenever you face trials of many kinds,
for the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance
must finish its work so that (drumroll here)
you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Waiting to allow the words she had just read sink in, I finally asked, “Okay Lisa, what stands out to you? What is God’s purpose when He allows trials to enter our lives?”
A few moments passed before she responded, “Well . . . I don’t get the ‘joy-thing’ at all, but I guess what stands out to me is ‘perseverance’. James is saying that we need to persevere in our faith when people we love die or other tragedy happens”
I answered, “Yes, James is saying that perseverance is important. Humanly we tend to focus in the ‘doing’/persevering part of living our lives for Christ. But what does James say is GOD’S GOAL in allowing trials and heartache into our lives?”
Lisa looked at me quizzically as I said, “Read verse 4 again:”
Lisa’s words came slowly as she worked on this puzzling truth: “Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
As she continued to work her way through this mysterious truth I offered, “Humanly, we tend to focus on ‘doing’ while God’s concern is about our ‘becoming’. God is about growing His children to maturity, a people whose confidence is fully invested in His faithfulness.” Viewing this as a time to pull the passage together I added, “God’s primary goal is that we would discover JOY in Him, no matter what our circumstance.”
Looking to broaden the scope of the meaning of joy in the Bible, I asked Lisa to “turn to Hebrews 11 and 12– right next door to James.” When she found it Lisa read:
“They were stoned, they were sawed in two,
they were put to death by the sword.
They went around in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, oppressed, and mistreated.
The world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
and hid in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet they did not receive what was promised.
God had planned something better for us,
so that together with us they would be made perfect.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 11:37 -12:3
As Lisa sat quietly in her chair rereading the passage, not wanting to disturb her thoughts, I softened my voice: “This passage is full of mysteries. It speaks of vast numbers of people through the ages; people who despite their suffering, in faith continued to look forward to the coming of God’s promised Messiah. What I love about this passage is how it unites God’s people as it places the Cross of Christ as His answer to that promise. Do you see it?”
Lisa remained quiet as she slowly nodded her head. I continued with a question meant to broaden her imagination: “Do you know what comes to my mind when I read, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses?’
Lisa, with her eyes wide, shook her head no.
“I think of being crowded into the LA Colosseum to watch a baseball game when I was a kid. It was full of all kinds of people, eager to cheer the Dodgers on. In my mind, I picture all the Saints who have gone before us, cheering God’s people (including you and me!) to run their race to completion. Do you see it, Lisa?”
She responded with a soft smile as she responded, “Yes . . . I think I do!”
I then shifted gears a bit as I asked, “So what do you make of verse 2? What can we learn about JOY as we consider the attitude of Jesus in His suffering– Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Still quiet but her countenance slowly brightening Lisa finally answered, “Joy runs far deeper than I ever imagined. I don’t understand it all but this much I do know, JOY is not connected to my circumstance. True, deep down joy, is tied to pleasing God, just as Jesus pleased His Father on the Cross that awful yet wonderful day.”
We both sat quietly, not wanting to lose the wonder of the moment. With nothing more to be said, we closed our session in prayer.
All to His Glory!
*Lisa is not her real name. To read about our first session go to: https://hisglorysm.com/2021/04/22/when-hope-dawns/
**Philippians 4:7— “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.“