Counting it all joy!

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NASB95)

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB95)

I recently spoke with a friend over the phone and after it concluded I realized I had shared my present burden and stress (an all too often occurrence) and none of the great things God has been doing.  I sat down and wrote the following and then decided I would just post it instead.

I wanted to write better summary of what God has been doing in our lives.  I feel I have burdened you far too many times with the struggles and far too little allowed you to rejoice with me in what Jesus is so faithfully doing at the same time.

We are now living in an apartment which never would have been my choice, but our apartment happened to be right next to a missionary family on furlough for our first summer.  Their boys and ours bonded like Velcro and the friendship I gained with their dad was a blessing and further evidence of God’s sustaining grace.  We have also made new friendships with a family originally from Ghana, another family (and their extended family) from Sudan, and recently another family from India.  The opportunity to know and witness to families from around the world right here in this little college town is amazing.

I have taken up container gardening which has been educational, therapeutic, and an incredible bridge to meeting new people (a 4×8 garden all in containers and lush like a jungle gets a lot of attention)!

Having come back to Iowa has allowed me to reflect on different chapters of life and celebrate 20 years of walking with Christ (far more a story of His faithfulness than of mine).  Although I long for the family atmosphere we came to love at Royal Palms Baptist Church, the church we are attending has facilitated some of the deepest worship experiences I have had and for that I am thankful.  I also owe so much of my understanding of discipleship and ministry to our lead pastor who was providentially involved in several of my spiritual crossroads.

The significant adversity I faced at work over our first 9 months here, while extremely stressful, served to drive me deeper into God’s Word and ultimately I was able to rejoice when God did bring relief.  He has taught me much in how to more effectively deal with adversarial relationships.

Our plans to sell our house quickly, pay off all of our outstanding debts, and be untethered for an open door to ministry (whenever that might occur) were completed turned upside down.  We could not sell our house and while holding on to the idea it would eventually work out, our debt doubled and our retirement savings dwindled down to about 25% what they had been.  This too, while no small trial of faith, has served both to clarify to me both the prior division of my faith and the need for greater financial stewardship in the future (beyond my blind faith that it will all somehow work out).  I realized that God does not need me to devise my own ‘funding’ to get to a place of ministry (my plans) so much as He desires my complete faith in Him.

Learning to live daily and trust Him with tomorrow’s needs is a valuable lesson we needed to learn.  I believe that we are actually far ahead of the rest of our country.  At the end of the day, I am blessed to know so many far more righteous servants than I, who have never had what I too often worry about losing, and even now am tempted to mourn losing.

The frustration and disappointment accompanying attempts at finding a places of effective ministry have been experienced here the same as I felt in Arizona.  I have learned that I must accept this and trust in God’s sovereignty, even when leaders and denominations fall short of what I believe they could and should be.

At the same time as these trials, our family has been thoroughly blessed relationally and the kids have a sincere desire to read the Bible and learn more about God.  It has been amazing to see the positive answers to their prayers for others facing serious illness.  Truly amazing.  Both from devotional times with the kids and recreational times, I do not think I have ever experienced a better, more blessed summer.

All in all – my faith in and walk with Jesus has never been deeper and for that I can truly rejoice in all of these trials, counting them all joy, that I am gaining a deeper knowledge of my Lord and Savior.  I desire Him more than I desire the opportunity to do great things for Him (though the latter desire is still great enough to be an almost crushing burden at times).  I long for a day when He would open the door for pastoral ministry – but if the day never comes, I trust in Him and the path He is leading us along.  I am thankful for the opportunities of influence, great or small, that He is providing.

Lastly, I am thankful for your friendship and your faithfulness to Christ.

Take care my friend – I pray that you too are daily being pressed deeper into Christ and experiencing all of the joy that accompanies it!