Gems for the Journey: Joy (Jesus Over You)

By Veronica Thomas (Union PSCE, M.Div.’07)

“… whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
(James 1:2-4 NRSV).

I remember reading an illustration by an anonymous author in which he tells of a western captain as he lay on the battlefield Shiloh, suffered greatly from a fatal gunshot through both thighs and from thirst. The injured captain, “The stars shone out clear and beautiful about the dark field, and I began to think of that great God who had given His son to die a death of agony for me; and that He was up there — up above the scene of suffering above those glorious stars; and I felt that I was going home to meet Him and praise Him there; and I felt I ought to praise God even wounded and on the battlefield. I could not help singing that beautiful hymn by Isaac Watts, a song of assurance and trust. ‘When I can read my title clear, to mansions in the skies, and there was a Christian brother in the brush nearby. I could not see him, but I could hear him. He took up the strain, and beyond him, another and another caught it up, all over the battlefield of Shiloh. That night the echo was resounding; and we made the field of battle ring with the hymns of praise to God.” What joy shown in the midst of death by this soldier! There is much to be learned from the injured captain’s reflections.

In the scripture cited, James does not say if you face trials, but when you face them. He assumes that we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain, but to have a positive Jesus outlook (consider it “pure joy” because of what trials can produce in our lives). James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Tough times can teach us perseverance. We can only really know the depth of our character when we see how we react under pressure. Ask God to help you shoulder your problems or give you the strength to endure them. Then be patient. God will not leave us alone with our problems; he will stay close and help us grow.

Always remember 1 Peter 5:10a, “After you have suffered for a little while [and God determines how long a little while is] God will himself [God’s assurance] restore, strengthen and establish you”. “Restore” means to make complete. “Strengthen” means to enable you to stand fast. “And “establish” means to place on a firm, secure foundation. That is what the God of grace will do in this time of COVID-19 and racial upheaval.

Sometimes when Joy is hard to find, God has a goal in mind for you. You can count on that! James is speaking here about the attitude of your heart towards your trouble. The Greek aorist tense used here suggests that the JOY (Jesus Over You) is the result of the trial. Trials are meaningless, suffering is senseless, and testing is irrational unless there is a reason for them, and it is a good reason. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Roman 8:28). When the external pressures of testing are upon us and we are placed in the fires of adversity, tragedy and suffering, the attitude of faith should be that our God has permitted them for a purpose and He has a high, elevated, soaring and lofty goal in view. We can know that God is working something out in our lives.

In this time of hurt and discontent among humankind and disregard for the written law, there is no way we can continue in our daily walk with the triune God without JOY (Jesus Over You). We are assured of strength through joy in Nehemiah 8:10. For example, without this joy that the world did not give to me, I could not read a view from an individual whose surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin and means friend, and still have joy after reading his view in the Virginian Pilot. This individual commented on Bubba Wallace of NASCAR stating that there are individuals who don’t get it when people kneel during the playing of “the Star-Spangled Banner”. He replied, “No, Wallace, you don’t get it”. While our country is not perfect, it sure beats any other place in the world. You say that our system hurts your sensibilities. Well anyone kneeling or in any way showing disrespect for our flag hurt my sensibilities. We [Who are the we?] fought for your right to protest but don’t tell me that I have to like your complete disregard for the country that gives you the chance to race a car around a track and make mega bucks. You should be thankful you have this opportunity”.

The reading of his view encouraged me to reach deep down in my heart and call on Adonai – the sovereign God who bought me with a price. Therefore, Adonai is my master who rules me, my owner who owns me, and my Lord who directs and controls me. That is why, through it all, I can count it all JOY – Jesus over me.

I read a letter from an individual that was written to a white Pastor who had asked his brethren and sisters to kneel and repent atrocities such as slavery, segregation, and discrimination during a diverse prayer march. This individual took offense that a church leader was supporting social unrest. His surname is of French descent and mostly white. In his letter, he called out blacks in a two-page letter chiding Black people for the status of some who have not been able to rise from the oppression of 400 years of de facto and de jure racism.

Some quotations from the letter follow: “Black have stereotyped themselves with their high rates of social dysfunction. They have never fully assimilated into the dominant white society. They prefer to keep themselves isolated but later complain of systemic racism. If you wish to help blacks, don’t do so by dumping guilt on whites based on skin color. That’s racist and Nazi behavior. It is moral ethics that lead to triumph. Work towards lowering the black rates of dysfunction for illiteracy, illegitimacy, welfare dependency, crime, and riots. Blacks need to be reminded that they are living in a land of milk and honey, but they must use the opportunity to work at achieving the benefits.”

I am sure while reading portions of his letter you had an answer for him. The pastor who received this letter chose not to respond believing it would serve no purpose and fall on deaf ears. We prayed according to Psalms 51 for us, for him and for others with the same mindset. We plea this day as David did for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing. God wants our hearts to be right with him and to have His JOY – Jesus Over You – so that God can, and will, create a pure heart and right spirit in us. The song writer declares: “This Joy I have the world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away.” Keep the Joy of Jesus going ….. Let us respond to the Word of God. Amen! So be it.

*Veronica Thomas (Union-PSCE)