Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dwell on Christ

James 1:2-8
“2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials, 3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4)And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7)For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

There is a hashtag trending on Twitter recently that says “ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion”. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, the best I’ve been able to tell about what hashtag trends are is that it’s a little like the old blog meme - you type your update and put the hashtag on it and it lets you join in the ‘fun’. I don’t do much with hashtags on Twitter, I don’t do much at all with Twitter beyond an occasional tweet, truth be told, but I was tempted to use this one. I had one all composed, then I decided that to post it without any commentary might not be wise. 

Here’s what I was thinking about posting as my unpopular opinion: “For a Christian, unhappiness often has less to do w/circumstances than w/refusal to let thoughts dwell on Christ.”

But, I’m too long-winded for Twitter, and I thought maybe I want to flesh out that thought before posting it, instead of just throwing it out there as a zinger, so here’s a little devotional thought for today based on James 1:2-8, and incorporating my unpopular opinion, if you will. If you would like a good resource on this topic, I’ve been listening to a very helpful two-part podcast from Alistair Begg that is part of a larger series he’s doing called, “My Times Are in His Hands.” Part 1 is here if you’re interested.

So, looking at verse 2, notice it doesn’t say to “FEEL it all happiness” when we encounter trials. No, it says to COUNT it all joy. This means it’s a choice of where to focus our thinking. I recently was struggling through a bout of the blues, and as I listened to that podcast this morning, I began thinking this through. Let me share with you two ways we can respond when a bout of the blues hits seemingly out of nowhere, at least, this is how it often goes for me, so see if you can relate. I find myself feeling that pit gaping, the blues threatening, feeling low, and honestly having little control over those very low feelings, so I start to think, “Now, what is making me feel this way?” And I begin to diagnose it, find a cause, think about some usually valid thing in my life that could be behind my blues, start dwelling my thinking on that thing that I have decided must be causing the blues, and then the spiral begins. OR when the blues hit, though I may recognize some potential cause, I choose to run to Jesus, rather than spin and spiral and mope and DWELL in the blues. My prayer may go something like this: “Lord, I can’t shake these blues. They are real, there’s this THING, You know what it is, Lord, I can’t do it, please help me to look to You and not to the thing that’s weighing me down. Turn my eyes to Your word, guard my heart from deception, and help me to see You in the midst of this thing, please grant me the wisdom to know You and to love You and to understand Your word and turn away from my sinful bent toward wallowing.” And I’ve learned when these things come that it is wise to cut out things, if possible, that lend themselves to my dwelling on the blues and take time to immerse myself in reading the Bible and praying through it. Daily Bible reading has been a huge blessing and means of grace in my life. 

Does that mean the blues lift automatically? Not usually. Sometimes it’s a drawn out and difficult and hard-won fight for joy. But what it does do is it helps me to stop wallowing and start focusing my thinking better, focus on Jesus and what He has done to save me from sin and from sinfully allowing my circumstances to take larger precedence than they ought. That’s why I say ‘often’ in that hashtag statement. Many times our unhappiness really isn’t rooted in the circumstances, but in how we are thinking about and handling and facing those circumstances. Do we believe that God is in control - of all things? Then when we wallow and complain about where He has us today, what does that say about our trust in His good plan? Is this easy to do? Not at all. But it is worth it, to find our joy in Christ in the midst of our THING, whatever that trial is.

I’m not trying to oversimplify real suffering, not at all. I am not a word-faith/mind-over matter kind of teacher. Life is hard. It’s hard for ALL of us. I am not saying there is no room or place for grieving and tears, either. We all have some THING that we have to face in our lives. But how we face those things, how desperately we cling to Christ or choose to wallow determines much of what we are able to learn from those things and how we choose to glorify God or not in the midst of our things. Are we going to blow it up to large proportion and wallow in a woe-is-me, THIS is why I suffer attitude, or are we going to recognize the lie that our circumstances define us and cling all the more desperately to Jesus? I say all this because I have been there. I’ve wallowed. And it isn’t pretty when I do. But, oh, how much better when I learn to arrest those thoughts before they embitter me and learn to trust HIM.

One more thought, and this is the unpopular thought that will probably make people mad at me: Another thing I’m learning is that, as I mentioned last time, I’m not sure Facebook is good for us. It makes it WAY too easy to vent out every stray thought before we reign it in and share it with everyone out there in Facebook land. It makes it all too easy to wallow when we feel justified in venting every frustration with our circumstances for everyone to see. And, can I just be blunt? When we do that, vent our every frustration, it makes it really, really hard for our friends to not take offense or fall into the same trap. I know, I’ve been a venter. I NEVER feel good about it later, either. That is not to say we shouldn’t be honest or put on happy, happy, happy masks and only post rainbows and sunshine, either. That is problematic also. But how we go about being honest is important, and something else to consider is that it impacts our witness for Christ. Sharing our struggles privately with friends and asking for prayer or help is wise, venting everything publicly isn't always as wise.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about today, and thought I’d share it, for whatever it’s worth. May we seek holiness more than happiness, and may we find our greatest joy in knowing Christ. May the love of the Father, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our joy. 

Philippians 4:4-8
“4) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5) Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8)Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

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