It has been cool to see how our group has grown spiritually since we began our group at the beginning of October. We had our monthly meeting today, and for the month of January we were reading the book of James. I must say that from any of the books we've previous read (The Gospel of John, I/II/III John and Proverbs), James has impacted me the most.
Part of our "assignment" this month was to spend our devotional time journalling about what we read and how it impacted us in our everyday life. If any of you have taken a hard look at the book of James, you know it is full of challenges that we can apply to our daily lives. It was tough for me to choose just one or two ways in which the book impacted me, but it was probably Chapter One that impacted me the most. Today in the group I shared the following mini-essay, and I thought I should share it with my blog readers as well. I have made huge strides in my spiritual life this month, and I expect that things are just going to keep getting better from here on out. I don't mean to imply that my life is going to suddenly become a bed of roses . . . just that my spiritual life has taken on a new perspective. I hope that you will all feel encouraged by what I have to share with you.
FAITH AND ENDURANCE
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so that you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
James 1:2-4, The Message
This passage is very meaningful to me because in the past I have found myself questioning God a lot when I faced troubles and trials (tests and challenges). I often forget that trials help to refine me; they help me become a better person in the long-run. They help me become a follower of Christ who is dependent upon the Father. Trials force me to rely on God for my comfort and strength. Ultimately, they draw me closer to God.
I know of many people (myself included) who have used trials as a basis to question God's existence in their life. I find this very sad and disturbing, especially since it is suggested that we consider our troubles to be a "gift", an "opportunity" for great joy. Joy does not mean we have a feel-good, bowl-of-cherries life. Joy is a deep-rooted assurance that all is well and we can rest emotionally. Our tests or trials are meant to refine us . . . to produce the strength we need to keep moving on in perseverance. Tests and challenges force our faith to show its true colors.
Through various life experiences, I am finding myself less concerned with the trials and troubles and more concerned with how I am going to represent God in the process. Am I going to reject Him or embrace Him? Will I set a good example of trusting God to those around me, particularly my immediate family? How will my children view trials in their lives based on the example I am setting? Am I honoring God through the storms of life, or am I blaming Him for making my life miserable? These are questions I ponder with each trial I face.
The next set of verses that I felt impacted by were James 1:5-8, which follow (also from The Message version):
If you don't know what you are doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get this help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who 'worry their prayers' are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you are going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
In reading an online commentary on the book of James, I made a discovery that I had never realized before. Apparently verse 5 contains the ONLY promise in the Bible of prayers that are always answered with a 'yes'. God has promised to help in the area of providing wisdom. Knowledge is the learning of facts, but wisdom is knowing what to do with that knowledge and those facts. We can use the wisdom of the world or we can seek God's wisdom. He is willing to award wisdom to us . . . He is generous with wisdom. He will give us the understanding of what His wisdom would do with the facts at hand.
Of course, there is a second part to this. The wisdom must be sought and accepted without a second thought. We must ask boldly, expecting that God is going to give us the wisdom we require. That means, God's wisdom is the only direction we should be seeking in our lives. God does not tolerate divided loyalty, which only creates instability.
I love the way The Message interprets the verse regarding those who "worry their prayers". I am a prime example of someone who "worries their prayers". I pray to God for help, and then within 30 seconds I'm worrying about all the ifs, ands and buts in the situation I find myself in (that is, "keeping all my options open"). I have realized through studying James in more detail, that, God is displeased with this, and I have been working on improving this particular area in my life this month. As a result, I have found myself challenged a lot in recent weeks as I feel I have been given opportunities for growth in this area. I am happy to report that I have made huge strides in trusting God, for which I am grateful. I feel so much more peace within since I have attempted to quit "worrying my prayers". God is ultimately in control and He has proven Himself over and over in my life. I don't know why I was trying to hold on to so much, and why I was worrying so much over details that He works out in advance.
God has begun to work a miracle in my heart and I am so ecstatic over this I can hardly believe it. While my natural tendency is to worry, I have caught myself at the onset of worry and reminded myself of these verses. I truly want to trust God with my life and I want to rely on Him to sort out all the details that I have no control over.