Pure Joy? Really?
Sunday - December 27th
Devotionals from the Book of James
Scripture to Read Today: James 1:1-11
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
A week ago today, I had the privilege of praying with Joni and Ken Tada over the phone. Ken had called me to share that his wife Joni had tested positive for COVID-19. Joni has had quadriplegia for over 50 years. She is perhaps the most active, aging (she is 70 years old) quadriplegic alive today. God used her confinement to a wheelchair after a diving accident in 1967 as a platform from which Joni shares the Good News of Jesus Christ. The international disabilities ministry she founded, Joni and Friends, continues to impact lives worldwide through local churches.
Joni's life in the last decade has also included two battles with breast cancer. She has had her fair share (if not more than her fair share) of physical challenges. As you can imagine, she is a very high-risk person when it comes to the coronavirus. God has given Joni great medical care, and as of today, she has not had to be hospitalized due to COVID-19. She has remained at home with Ken, and they have walked this journey together.
When I prayed with Ken and Joni over Ken's iPhone set to speakerphone, I found myself humbled by their faith. Even with the new and overwhelming challenge of COVID-19, Joni knew that prayer would be the key - turning to God once again meant more to her than anything else.
Over the years, I have heard Joni talk about the phrase "count it all pure joy" from James chapter one. She embraces this simple but challenging command from God's Word. Joni talks about the mental choice she has to make when the pain physically is too much for her. Joni describes wrestling with God in prayer and turning the pain over and over again to Him. There are no plastic, phony smiles with Joni. If she is hurting, she will tell you. If she is overwhelmed, she will say so. But, in the middle of the toughest of stuff she wrestles through (now including COVID-19), she chooses to "count it pure joy."
When James talks about counting our various trials as pure joy, he says that it produces "perseverance" (James 1:2-3). The word in the original Greek for perseverance is a compound word. It has a little prefix that means "under," and the central part of the word means "to remain or abide." So, when we count our trials as joy to be experienced and to further God's Kingdom (as Joni has), we are then able to remain under the trial without being crushed by it. That only comes as we struggle through the genuine problem we face. It does not encourage some plastic Christian smile and the repetition of hollow Christian platitudes.
A Joni and Friends staff member related to others Joni's response when she first learned she had breast cancer several years ago. Upon getting the results of the test, she simply told this co-worker, "Well, God has used my being in this wheelchair for His glory; I can't wait to see how he will use my cancer to bring glory to His name."
A big part of being able to "count it all pure joy" is the ability to understand God has a plan even in our problems. It is essential to see how God uses the good, the bad, and the ugly (cue the whistle) in our lives to point others to Him. As we consider our circumstances to be joy in our lives, the only way to do that is to walk closely with God and watch what He does to draw others to Himself with even the worst things of our lives.
Whatever you face today, consider it joy. Tell God you don't like it, but then let Him know that you can't wait to see how He will use it to bring glory to His name. When your head decides to calculate that God can use the most overwhelming problem, and your heart aligns with His plan, joy emerges deep in your heart and life. Keep telling God that you count it a joy to go through the trial you are currently experiencing. Ask Him to open your eyes to His plan and purpose in it as you walk by faith with Him.
Let's keep praying for Joni as she recovers from the coronavirus. Let's pray with her that God would show her how he will use her battle with COVID to point others to Himself.
We can find pure joy in our trials when we look for how God uses them for His glory and the good of others!