Monday, October 1, 2012

Trouble--A Reason for Joy

My Bible reading/study this morning led me to two passages that at first glance seemed unrelated--Jeremiah and James.

It was only a few years before Babylon would empty Jerusalem and all Judah of all but the poorest of the poor--only the street people and the homeless (in today's terms) would be allowed to stay when Jeremiah called all the Recabites to a room in the temple to test them.  He placed before them flagons of wine and invited them to drink.  Wine was a common beverage at that time and in that place, even in the temple, but these men refused.  Why?  Because long ago, an ancestor of theirs had charged all his descendants and their families to never drink wine. (Recab lived during the time of King Saul, though the "son" of Recab who gave this command, Jonadab, may be the Jehonadab who helped Jehu destroy the house of wicked King Ahab of Israel and all the ministers and priests of Baal.)  Now, a few hundred years later, they were still obeying this seemingly trivial command and doing so even when a prophet of God asked them to do otherwise.

God used the steadfastness of the Recabites to contrast the refusal of the rest of Judah to listen to God and obey him.  Why did God beg and pursue his people to obey him?  Because he wanted them to live in peace in their land.  But they, in their faulty "wisdom," or maybe in their hunger to follow the (evil) desires of their own hearts instead of God's, chose otherwise.  The result?  The Recabites would be blessed because of the way they honoured their ancestor but Judah would experience disaster because they refused to honour God.  Judah was exiled but at least one descendant of Recab survived the exile to Babylon and was a district ruler during the time Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

James in the New Testament talks about the evil desires of our hearts.  He says that it's our own evil desires that lead to evil actions that, in the end, lead to death.  This is what happened to Judah.  But, when trouble comes our way--and trouble could include our being plagued by these evil desires in us--we're supposed to let it be an opportunity for joy.  Say what?  Trouble is an opportunity for joy?  How so?

Because trouble tests our faith.  Our own evil desires test our faith.  Why?  Because we're put in the position of deciding how to deal with the trouble and/or evil desires--will we give in or will we depend on God to help us through?  If we choose the latter, we give endurance/perseverance a chance to grow.  Every time we resist an evil desire, every time we call on God to help us instead of giving in to the desire or the difficulty we're in, we are feeding our endurance; and fully developed endurance, a lifestyle of turning to God in all problems, results in a strong character and the readiness for anything that comes our way--good or bad.

The Recabites were strong in character.  As a family and as individuals, they had practiced endurance so that when faced with Jeremiah's test, they could stand firm and, as a result, were blessed.  This is why James says we can be joyful when trouble comes--it gives us the chance to develop a character of strength that is ready for anything--the death or loss of a loved one, economic disaster, threat of a debilitating or mortal illness or anything else that may come our way.

And the blessing?  Those who patiently endure testing and trouble will be blessed by God and will receive the crown of life God has promised to those who love him.  In fact, patient endurance may be the litmus test for whether we truly love God or not.  If you're lacking the ability to endure, ask God to help you, believe he really will, start turning to him in all situations, large or small, seek his will and do it.

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