August 14, 2012

Grace in trials

Sunday’s sermon was about rejoicing when life is tough, knowing that God will bring good out of even the worst situations. It was based on these verses…
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
This rings in my ears. I know that this is humanly impossible, as is true obedience to any other commands from God. It is not in me to happily  obey, never mind count it all joy when I’m suffering. To my human thinking, this sounds like the response of a madman. 

Today’s devotional offers another variation of that sermon and the verses in James. These verses are more specific about the kind of trial that asks for a supernatural response...
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20–21)
Peter is right. Anyone who does wrong and suffers for it may be able to endure, but what about suffering for doing the right things? It happens. Jesus never sinned, but He went to a horrible death because His enemies assumed He was lying about His identity. In their minds, to declare one’s self equal with God made Him the worst of sinners. It never occurred to them that He was telling the truth so they beat Him and crucified Him.

Jesus endured. Peter says to endure ill treatment for doing good is a gracious thing in God’s sight. The word gracious is charis. It refers to a manner or action that shows God’s influence upon the heart and the reflection of that influence in a person’s life. That is, this response of endurance in unjust suffering is something God produces because it is humanly impossible.

Apart from the grace of God, my response to unjust suffering is anger and retaliation. No one is going to give me a bad time for doing the right thing. However, these verses tell me that it is possible to endure because His Spirit lives in me. In Christ, I can do all things. 

Charis is about the grace of God. By grace, I can be grateful, accept everything that happens as from God and look for some way to benefit from it. Grace means I know God can turn the worst into the best. Grace as a mindset is a gift, a favor from God. It is accompanied by joy and peace, goodness and generosity. Because of grace, I can see how trials can shape in into a better person. God’s grace is not only worthy of a thankful heart, but also produces in me that very attitude. 

Lord, thanksgiving is easy for the feel-good events of life, not so much for those that are painful or difficult. Being happy about trials seems impossible, but I know that joy and thanksgiving are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work. They are charis/grace — activities that show Your influence in my heart and life. 

Sadly, I’m not always filled with the Spirit. Even when I am and trouble comes, often I tip over instead of letting You produce these supernatural responses in me. I have some growing to do. I’d prefer not to suffer so as to have practice at this, but suspect that this joy in trials and endurance in ill-treatment cannot be developed in any other way. I want to be like Jesus. May this desire never disappear, even in suffering. May You produce in me all that You desire for me. I want to be like Jesus.

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