In two days here in America we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and this year it also marks the first day of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah (Hanukkah). And even though the specter of unemployment still looms over my life after more than four and a half years now, I have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day and everyday.
Eight days ago I wrote my latest blog post titled “In God We Trust – True or False?” and then the very next day my wireless modem died and along with it my internet connection to the world. It was 3 ½ years old and had served me well, and while I did everything I knew how to do in the following days to try to revive it, the consensus was that it was dead. I mourned the loss as I knew a new wireless modem would cost more than I wanted to spend right now. I never dreamed that when I lost my job in April 2009 that I would still be unemployed over four and a half years later, and as much as I try not to worry about finances (my only income during this time was the unemployment benefits I received which ended in May 2011 and I have had no income since that time), to have unexpected expenses on an already tight budget gives me pause for thought every time it happens and sends me back to the place I talked about in my last blog post–e.g., do I really trust God to see me through every circumstance. To say the least, it humbles me.
And I have a confession to make . . . . After over four and a half years of unemployment with still no light at the end of that tunnel, there is one portion of Scripture that I recently found rather annoying (at least in the first sentence of the passage). It is found in James 1:2-18. Let’s read it:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
It is clear from the start of the passage that we (e.g., Christians) will encounter trials of many kinds throughout our lives and that these trials come our way as a testing of our faith which produces in us that much needed quality of perseverance if we allow it to (vv. 2-3). And it is that quality of perseverance that will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing (v. 4). And in order to acquire this perseverance, we must have God’s wisdom and God has clearly told us to ask him for it and he will give it to us generously and without finding fault as long as we truly believe that he will and not doubt (vv. 5-8). Well, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked God for his wisdom over these past four and a half years (five, actually) and he has given it to me every time I have totally trusted him to do it and not relied on my own understanding.
However, at the beginning of this portion of James is this statement, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” (v. 2). I have to admit that after four and a half years joy doesn’t exactly describe how I have been feeling lately. Tired, frustrated, isolated, restless . . . yes; but joyful? Hardly . . . . I found joy to be in very short supply when one mini-trial would end only to give birth to the next one and all of them in the midst of the major overarching trial of long term unemployment. And I was still encountering a major anger issue from time to time regarding my former boss in Houston who started this whole mess in my life when I first arrived for that job in Houston in late September 2008 and from which he fired me from in April 2009.
Now, mind you, my anger at him has in no way affected him at all. In fact, he doesn’t even know about it. The last time I saw him or talked with him was the day he fired me (April 21, 2009). His life has kept right on going through a couple of promotions while I’ve been unemployed the entire time. And then last night I read a quote on Facebook that really brought it all back home to me. While I couldn’t find a reference for the author of the quote, here is what it stated:
The one that angers you
Don’t give anyone that power
Especially the one
Who does it intentionally.
Human anger is destructive. It can and often does destroy others and always destroys us in the long run if we do not deal with it appropriately and in God’s way. Only godly anger can be constructive, but we humans rarely experience that kind of anger. Our anger is usually followed up with a strong desire for revenge. And the Bible is very clear that revenge belongs to God and not to us—see Romans 12:19. I have stumbled over my anger more times than I can count over this long time of unemployment, and it is the biggest stumbling block preventing me from experiencing real joy in the midst of a major trial that, at least from my very human and limited perspective, has lasted way too long and has stretched the lesson on learning perseverance to its limit.
However, as I read through Psalm 139, I am reminded that God knows everything about me (and he knows the same about you, too)—including every moment of my life and every circumstance and trial that I have encountered and I am currently encountering (and the same also goes for you). He knew me from my mother’s womb and “all the days ordained for me were written in your [God’s] book before one of them came to be” (see vv. 13-16). And as King David said right after that acknowledgement in v. 17: “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.”
As I mentioned in my last post, “In God We Trust—True or False?”, so often we take our eyes off of God and place them squarely on what we think needs to be done in any given situation. And once we take God out of the equation of our circumstances (or ask him to bless what we are about to do instead of asking him for his guidance in the situation when it happens and while we are going through it) we are on very shaky ground. Deadly ground, actually.
This whole experience with my internet modem dying last week has brought this point back home to me once again. I fretted and stewed about what to do; what it was going to cost me; how I could do it the cheapest way possible; how I was going to recoup the financial loss with no income whatsoever coming in, etc., etc., etc.; in fact, by yesterday morning when I woke up I was totally frustrated and had worked myself into a frenzy. I spent time over the past several days checking out all the options, weighing the pros and cons of each decision, and, quite frankly, wore myself out with the ensuing frustration of trying to figure it all out on my own.
Now, mind you, during this time I was aware that God was trying to get my attention but I had inadvertently assumed that I had to give him some help with it (how often do we do that, folks?). By the time I got up yesterday morning I had made that proverbial mountain out of a molehill and it was time to get off that mountain. And by yesterday afternoon I gave it all up and said, “Okay, God . . . please show me what I should do about this situation.” So I packed up my laptop and headed out to the store that I had almost written off as an option (I checked them out last week along with some other options) . . . and, well, you can probably guess what happened. I ended up getting a wonderful sales clerk who gave me a fantastic deal with a brand new and fast 4G wireless modem with whistles and bells and no contract required and some discounts I didn’t expect (I’ve been a long term customer with this particular company with my cell phone service) that will be saving me at least $15/mo from what I was paying for my 3 ½ year old much slower wireless modem with a different company that died last week right after I wrote that post that asked “Do we really trust in God?”
Talk about an object lesson . . . .
So now, once again, I bring to God this anger issue that just doesn’t seem to be resolving itself on its own. I’m tired of being angry, folks. Really, really tired . . . about as tired as I was yesterday morning when I woke up totally frustrated about what I needed to do to get connected with the world again after my wireless modem died a week ago. And that little saying I quoted above that I found on Facebook last night brought it home to me. I want God and not my anger at my former boss and my unbelievably long-term unemployment situation to be in control, so I give the entire situation (and my former boss) back to God right now . . . right this very moment . . . .
So with all of that being said, this Thanksgiving I am enormously thankful and grateful that God is always in control–even when I’m out of control–and if I will let go of my preconceived ideas or my own understanding which has limited perspective on the whole issue and truly ask him to guide me in everything I do, he will do exactly that—just as he promised he would do in James 1. And this morning, I can feel that joy that has been eluding me for so long seeping back into my life . . . and just in time for Christmas, too.
Are you in the midst of a trial that you can hardly stand anymore and any joy you once experienced has been robbed from your life? Then maybe it’s time to stop trying to figure it all out on your own. Leave all of the options up to God—he’s the only one with the right option (and with him, it’s never an option).
Christmas is coming soon and there’s no better gift to receive than God’s wisdom (through Jesus Christ). So stop the struggling on your own; ask God for it, and don’t doubt . . . .
Starting right now . . .
And consider it pure joy . . . .
YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996):