"Consider it pure joy…"
"And what's this?" asked my husband, as I handed him a platter of apple slices. He wasn't pointing to the fruit, but to the wiggly creature which had obviously escaped from it. The poor thing looked lost and frantic on the large plate. I suddenly realized that the presence of this tiny creature was a reason to rejoice. I explained to my husband how it proved that I was a caring wife: I served healthy, pesticide-free produce personally scavenged from the wild! For that, he should be truly grateful. In response, I received little more than a grunt.
But isn't that how we instinctively respond to the unwelcome "worms" crawling across our lives! I'm talking about minor annoyances which don't particularly disrupt our lives. They merely dampen our sunshiny expectations. Yet, they have remarkable power to shift our mood and expose the worst in us. Consider how we react to that fly in the juice, the telemarketer, the unavailable parking space, the insult, and so forth.
We don't instinctively view minor irritations as pointers toward God. We're not inclined to "consider it pure joy" — as we should:
James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)
Here's where small annoyances can be as beneficial as huge trials. Either can sensitize us to our flaws. We see our impatience, our reactive tendencies. We see how bent out of shape we can get over minor issues. Our lofty self-view gets deflated. That's humbling — or so it should be. That's how we discover our need to grow in perseverance. That's exactly what God wants for us! He's interested in our spiritual growth and uses anything to accomplish it — any slight irritation. If maturity is also our interest, we can more easily "consider it pure joy", rather than pure annoyance.
But there's a hindrance: Society has invented remedies for just about any kind of annoyance. We now expect annoyance-free living. We're more inclined to reach for our societal "pesticides" than to accept the "pests" as grace-builders.
Churches have had their own brands of "spiritual pesticides": behaviour codes, policies, and traditions to keep the darker side of human nature from surfacing — or rather, doing what disturbs our sunshiny religious expectations. However, just as insecticides diminish the flourishing of vital insects, so also do our spiritual pesticides. Our many legalisms diminish the flourishing of vital spiritual qualities, such as repentance, patience, and forgiveness. Churches have tended to treat disruptions as occasions to create better "pest management" so that "it won't happen again". Yet it would be far more effective to view the troubles as God-ordained opportunities to foster faith and maturity — beginning with ourselves.
Prayer: Thank You, Father, that in Your relentless love, You permit little pests to interrupt our lives for our well-being. Give us the courage to see it that way, that we may "consider it pure joy". Amen.
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Listen while you read: "Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know" (Lyrics)