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Counsel of the Columns

Photo by: Pierrick Blons

The counsel of the Bible can sound contrary to all reason—and against our best interests—while showing us the meaning of wisdom.

For instance, the Apostle James says something that could sound more like mental illness than spiritual health.  He encourages his readers to “count it all joy when they fall into various kinds of trials and temptations: (James 1:2) To our flesh, such advice sounds masochistic (as if we are to take pleasure in pain or in being hurt).

In a recent team chapel, however, our friend Joe Stowell of Strength for the Journey reminded us that while the word “joy” is an emotional word, the word “count” is not. “Count” represents a Greek word that means either “to have power or control over” or, as in the context of James 1:2, “to consider” with the mind.

The word picture in view is what happens in the financial or mathematical accounting practice of adding up debits and credits to get a current balance or bottom line. It’s what happens in our checkbook or bank statement when we put expenses in the minus column and deposits in the plus column.

Photo by: ntr23

In other words, James, in behalf of our God, is not asking us to feel good when something difficult or bad happens to us. Rather he is urging us to believe, as a matter of faith, that  the painful tests and temptations that come into our lives belong in the plus column—even though they seem like minuses.

It’s no new revelation. But the truth is easy to forget if we try to measure it by our feelings. Up until this point in our lives, our experience has confirmed what we would rather not believe. Without trouble we would soon forget the meaning of faith. Our character would not deepen. We wouldn’t be challenged to learn the ways of wisdom. We’d remain like children at best. At worst, we’d gradually become demonic in our love of short-sighted, meaningless pleasure. We’d lose sight of our need for God. We wouldn’t experience the spiritual strength, presence, comfort, and grace that he wants to give us.

For me, the clarification about the meaning of “count” was a helpful reminder. It was also  a reality check. I needed to let it sink in that our God doesn’t ask us to be happy about the difficult, painful, awful matters of our lives. But he does ask us to learn to “count” on his understanding– rather than on our own.

Doesn’t mean it will be easy. Does mean it’s what it takes to find perspective… and wisdom that is worth more than gold  (1Peter 1:5-7).

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32 Responses to “Counsel of the Columns”

  1. mlj says:

    As Paul points out, it’s good for us to be reminded of the things we have been taught. There are so many things pulling for our attention and Satan is all too ready to distract us from what is truly real. Consider what we would be like if we never suffered in any way. If we were “protected” from ever knowing heartache, pain or discouragement, what kind of people would we be? I would argue that we would become so unfeeling, selfish and without compassion that we would be of little use to anyone in this life and unable to relate or minister as we are called. No it’s not pleasant or fun, but somehow, God has a purpose for it. It’s just difficult when we don’t know that purpose. mlj

  2. pegramsdell says:

    Awesome post Mart, thanks. This also reminds me of the palm trees at the hotel we took our kids to as they were growing up. They are in the wind all the time, so that makes them very strong. And every year we go there, those trees are still there. Even though there has been hurricanes and tropical storms and rain and drought through the years.

    If I am planted on the rock called Jesus, I should be able to stand when the storms of life come, (from any direction) my friends and family and loved ones will see that I won’t fall down and cry everytime something bad happens to me. I will go to the rock of my salvation.

  3. jam200 says:

    Sometimes, the joy comes from looking back and seeing that what God provided the way for me to handle the trial. In tennis, I use to tell my students that you needed to learn now to lose before learning how to win. Learning to lose meant that you worked harder and harder to improve your game, including the mental discipline that was needed. Instead of focusing on the score, focus on how I played.

    I think the same is true in James and is further explained in Romans 5:3-5 where writes that we are to “exalt in our tribulation, leading to perserverance and perserverance proven character and proven character hope, and hope does not dissapoint because the love of God has been poured out for us through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.”

    It’s a journey defined by the moments.

  4. florida7sun says:

    Mart, thank you for your post. Like the Psalmist David, I rejoice in having a Shepherd who guides and walks with me. With Him I count the journey to the heights and in the valleys as pure joy, for He refreshes my soul. Without Him I would be totally lost. Through His grace He sought me out, and I am comforted to be in His presence.

    Love to all on this beautiful day, Ray

  5. tracey5tgbtg says:

    I hear so much in James 1:2, which is one of my favorite verses. I can hear God saying that whatever is happening to me, it is no surprise to Him, but rather He knew what was going to happen and planned for me to go through it.

    Of course, I have never yet felt “joy” as an instinctive reaction to problems, painful trials, and confusing circumstances. My initial reaction is “Lord, can You fix this for me right away?”

    It takes much prayer to get to the place where I can have God’s peace in the midst of trials, but I know that God will take me to a place of peace, and yes, of joy, when I fully surrender all situations to Him.

    God did not send His Son to save us from trials, persecutions, trouble, suffering, poverty, hunger etc.

    Those things don’t separate us from God.

    Matt 2:21 “She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

    Jesus saves us from our sins because that is the only thing that separates us from God. Our trials and tribulations serve only to bring us closer to God.

    The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

  6. davids says:

    This is such an informative and helpful post. I have known trouble and in that I have been blessed and grown.

    Recently I have been blessed in another way as things have improved financially. And yet it concerns me. Will I give in to the temptations of good times? Will my children be seduced by new possibilities? It is always important to keep our Lord front in our lives.

    Currently I am in a certain very large country in Asia where there is much poverty and much prosperity. These people need to hear the Word. Thank God that some are here spreading it!

  7. oneg2dblu says:

    Mart… good posts are always built upon the Rock of our Salvation, Christ. It is kind of like participating in Sunday school class, this blog, where you know the answer has to be Christ, no matter what the question, or how much we may suffer to answer it properly, Christ is in the Center of Our Lives and in the center of this blog.
    I hate to ruin the comparision of strong Palm trees tested by wind and adverse conditions, being like our tested faith building stronger on the rock, when those trees only know sand. So I won’t because the reality is, even on less than ideal beginings, we can all grow into stronger examples of what Walking with Christ in Faith, and our attempts to be Lifelong Learners or Disciples for Christ can look like, as we bend to the rough times and flourish in the abundant warm breezes
    that God provides to grow us.

  8. poohpity says:

    Oh, to have that total trust in God, no matter what comes our way we will grow. BECAUSE WE KNOW that the testing of our faith PRODUCES perseverance. To those who do not trust attitudes of self pity and anger develop leaving the person unable to find joy in anything.

  9. oneg2dblu says:

    Pooh-pity… brings me to the story of Job, always trusting God, no matter what! We know that God allowed this testing of him, just short of the point of death,
    just to prove to Satan that *true faith* in God can withstand any trials that evil presents.
    True, we are not all Job’s, but we are all God’s, those who believe that outwardly though we may waste away, inwardly we grow, day by day, closer to God, if we just keep the Faith, we now possess! Gary

  10. dja says:

    Thank you, Mart.
    As I read your post, 2Corinthians 4:16-18 came to mind.
    “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    So often I run with what I see, forgetting that my current trouble is actually “achieving for me an eternal glory”. I’m thankful the the Lord doesn’t give up on me but reminds me that what I am seeing with my eyes is just for now, but what He is working in me, is eternal.
    Great is His faithfulness!


  11. poohpity says:

    tracey5tgbtg, that is the “bottom line” isn’t it? We were never promised a life free of the effects of sin but the eternal consequences of it.

  12. foreverblessed says:

    It is vital that we learn to praise God in all circumstances, whether good or bad.
    Psalm 50:23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
    and he prepares the way
    so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

    meaning: If we praise God, then we pave the way for God, to show us the salvation of GOd.
    This is exactly what I am learning right now, and it takes some. Stop self pity, look at the good things that always are around me. GOd IS always. He is always FOR me.
    Thank GOd.

  13. bereanreader says:

    Sometimes the trials and tribulations that we go through are not just for our benefit (long term), but are an example for non-believers in Christ to witness to see how we are handling the situation while in the midst of going through it. Are we Christians expressing the “peace” of Christ while we’re in the midst of the storm.

  14. florida7sun says:

    This past weekend Nick Vujicic (Life Without Limbs) shared his beautiful testimony at our church, Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida. Nick’s message is most appropriate and in keeping with Mart’s insights into “counting it all joy.” His presentation is accessible by googling Northland, A Church Distributed. “Life Without Limbs” is showcased in the Media Section. Nick’s testimony begins at the 24:55 mark. I was tremendously blessed and believe you will be too. Ray

  15. poohpity says:

    Ray, I have heard him speak several times and just as you say he is quite a blessing and a story of working with what God has given us. It was a process for him as it is for us as well.

  16. poohpity says:

    2 Cor 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

  17. florida7sun says:

    oneg2dblu… Gary, thank you for your kind comments on March 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm. The beauty of Mart’s blog and the expressions of all contributors will lead us into truth. I have discovered that each of us are beggars. What distinguishes a Christian is the fact we have discovered the source of all bread, can lead others to our Lord and Savior… while we build each other up spiritually. It’s wonderful to be in fellowship with you and Mart’s extended family in cyberspace. God bless you Gary for your thoughtfulness. Ray

  18. Regina says:

    Good Evening All

    Mart, I love the picture that you chose for this blog topic because of the crosses in the windows. They remind me of the awesome sacrifice and gift of love (& life) that our LORD Jesus freely gave to us!! :-)
    Haven’t read all of the comments on this blog topic, so if I’m sharing the same thought as someone else… Well, great minds think alike!

    Partly cloudy and warm in Texas today (mid 70’s).

  19. Regina says:

    Good comment, tracey5… 3-8/11:35 am :) I agree with what you said.

  20. Regina says:

    florida7sun, want to share my thoughts on your comment,
    “This past weekend Nick Vujicic (Life Without Limbs) shared his beautiful testimony at our church, Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida. Nick’s message is most appropriate and in keeping with Mart’s insights into “counting it all joy.”

    I’ve heard Nick’s testimony on Christian tv (TBN/Pastor Greg Laurie’s ministry). It’s an awesome testimony indeed! I was SO moved and inspired by his *zeal* for life inspite of his disabilities (no arms or legs).

  21. Regina says:

    bereanreader, your comment, “Sometimes the trials and tribulations that we go through are not just for our benefit (long term), but are an example for non-believers in Christ to witness to see how we are handling the situation while in the midst of going through it.”

    brought to mind a poem that I want to share:

    “Myself” (Edgar Guest)

    I have to live with myself, and so,
    I want to be fit for myself to know;
    I want to be able as days go by,
    Always to look myself straight in the eye;
    I don’t want to stand with the setting sun
    And hate myself for the things I’ve done.

    I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf
    A lot of secrets about myself,
    And fool myself as I come and go
    Into thinking that nobody else will know
    The kind of man I really am;
    I don’t want to dress myself up in sham.

    I want to go out with my head erect,
    I want to deserve all men’s respect;
    But here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
    I want to be able to like myself.
    I don’t want to think as I come and go
    That I’m bluster and bluff and empty show.

    I never can hide myself from me,
    I see what others may never see,
    I know what others may never know,
    I never can fool myself- and so,
    Whatever happens, I want to be
    Self-respecting and conscience free.

  22. oneg2dblu says:

    Regina… Great Poem, thank you for sharing that very pointed work.
    If you take the word I out, it would have the same effect as trying to spell *SIN* with just two letters.There would be no sin at all for me, if “I” weren’t right in the middle of it!
    What amazes me is once Christ becomes your center, and his message resonates through your fleshly members, your worldly mindset,and selfish ambition, you win because then, you know it is NOT all about you!
    I really enjoyed that working of words that shows we must be involed in the process, because if we don’t change, NOTHING DOES!
    For a Christian it is the work of working with God, that chasnges us into working for Him!
    He becomes the middle “I” when we become HIS!

  23. SFDBWV says:

    Sometimes as we try and make sense of the misery of our lives and the lives of those around us, we attempt the impossible. We strain at the whys of life trying to get a sense of what God is either doing with us or not doing with us.

    The results can be maddening, the answers to why sooner or later settles down into surrender to the fact that God will do as God will do and we have no control over that at all.

    All of our begging pleading and tears are still left to the fact that God will do as He desires.

    If we surrender to His will, then our desires become in line with His desires. To the point of where we care nothing of ourselves except for the use of God for His purposes and to His glory.

    If any of you have made taffy, you know that the candy has to be stretched and stretched over and over again, until it is perfected.

    Most have at least read that in order to refine metal of any kind the heat must be high enough to melt the ore and continued so as to separate the dross or slag from the metal.

    Most understand that in order to shape a hedge you must continually trim its branches back in order for it to grow into the shape you desire.

    Most know that in order to train an animal to do you will you must be stern as well as loving.

    Animals as some of you know will test your limits, always pushing to see just how far they can go before being put back in line.

    Jesus said that sometimes suffering has no connection to punishment, but that the works of God should be made manifest in us. (John 9: 2-3)

    So our trials become a venue through which God can be made manifested in us, and we can “count” ourselves very blessed that God has chosen us to show His nature in our behavior. Trials upon trials to the perfection of Him in us.

    Snow, sleet, rain, we have it all today.


  24. tracey5tgbtg says:

    Gary – your comment, “There would be no sin at all for me, if “I” weren’t right in the middle of it!” is so true. That is a good point for me to keep in mind.

    Regina – I didn’t even see the crosses in the window until you pointed them out. I was thinking the picture was showing that even in the darkness there is always light, but to know that from the cross comes the source of our light makes it more meaningful.

  25. poohpity says:

    I was thinking this morning about parenting. I don’t know about anyone else but it is very hard for me to watch my children go through the trails of life and not want to rescue them from the hardships. I know that when I do, it prevents them from the chance to grow and mature. I will not be around all their lives and to deny them the experiences does not really help them to mature and be dependent on the Lord, not me. I know it is so selfish wanting to fix things for them.

    We teach our children independence and God teaches us dependence on Him alone. There is a big difference in dependence on the Lord or on us a parent. God knows the areas we need to mature in and allows us to fall and skin our knees several times before we learn. God doesn’t protect us from all the hardship but walks us through them which develops our character.

    I always remember the story about the butterfly and how it struggles to get out of the cocoon. One day a well meaning person came and helped open the cocoon for the butterfly but with the help it damaged the development of the wings because the struggle through the opening is what pushed the blood flow to get the wings to mature. The butterfly could never fly on it’s own after that, it shriveled up and died.

  26. oneg2dblu says:

    Good morning all… remember one day we were all totally
    dependant on others, we couldn’t feed ourselves, dress our selves, and forget about walking, we hadn’t even perfected crawling! But, there came a day when gravity was overcome,
    and our center of balance after much failure became mastered, and we found a new freedom we didn’t know existed before, as we walked on our own! for the very first time!
    That is exactly the freedom that those who do not know Christ as their Center of Balance are being held captive to as they are blind, deaf, and dumb to the things of God, for they do not know the freedom of never having to walk alone again!
    They do not know that there is a loving God who watches over them as only a loving parent can do!
    They are lost in their own finding, searching in their own strength for balance, and never knowing what falling into the Arms of an Almighty Father feels like… for them, I rent my heart, Lord be for them, as you are for those who love, trust and obey you today. Come Jesus and present yourself as real to them today. Gary

  27. Regina says:

    Good Evening All

    Hope all is well with you.
    You’re welcome, Gary, and, like Tracy, I like what you said about the word, “I.” :)
    Yes, Tracy, the light and the crosses–representative of the sacrifice and redemption of our LORD, Jesus Christ–make that picture very special.

    Steve & Deb, Your comments fall right in line with Today’s ODB Devotional, and I’ll share a little of it with you:

    March 9, 2011 (Wednesday)

    Deuteronomy 8:2, NKJV
    The LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart.

    Devotional Reading (last 6 sentences)
    In life, it sometimes seems as if we are wandering in circles. We feel lost. We want to ask God, “Are we there yet? How much longer?” At such times, it helps to remember that the journey, not just the destination, is important to God. He uses it to humble us, test us, and show us what is in our hearts.—J.A. Link

    All God’s testings have a purpose–
    Someday you will see the light;
    All He asks is that you trust Him,
    Walk by faith and not by sight. –Zoller

    *It’s the journey, not just the destination, that’s important.*

    Sunny, windy and cool in Texas today (mid 50’s/low 60’s).

  28. Bob in Cornwall England says:

    Still here and reading all your comments.
    Battery about to run out on the laptop and off to work in 10 mins.

    God is really blessing me at the moment.
    Gone from realy being on the edge to being in the middle of His blessing.
    Gary, don’t judge me when I say “get real”, you don’t know my circumstances as I don’t know yours.

    love you all.


  29. Regina says:

    Love you too, Bob (Cornwall). :)

  30. davids says:

    Back at home now, I was reviewing the comments here. I would like to belatedly pick up on the analogy of pegramsdell near the top of the page.

    Yes, God is like the ground that we are planed in. It provides the root for our salvation and strength. Through our faith we come to learn that God is not only there.

    God is also in the wind and storms that occasionally batter us. That is part of his will, as hard as it might be to understand.

    And finally God is also inside us. This is what gives the tree the strength to withstand the storms. Our will is but a small part of the bigger picture.

  31. oneg2dblu says:

    david… good comments, as my Pastor says,
    “No Root, No Fruit!” We must always be connected to the Source of our, Faith, and our Salvation!

  32. oneg2dblu says:

    bobincornwall… you are right, I can not know your circumstances,nor do I pretend to.
    I only read your question, and your reply to an answer
    that was given by someone else, who also must have known “only your words” as well!
    We all do the best we can here, and my only intention was to find a REASONABLE CONCLUSION!
    As I stated in my reply, we sometimes only have others words to go on, and we do make mistakes when that is all we have to reach reasonable conclusions.
    Perhaps I should not have commented at all, and then no one gets hurt, or misunderstood, but participation and views expressed with the words we have, are all we have here! Let’s not parse words that are not written as well!
    Sorry I read “YOUR REPLY” the wrong way! You must have meant *get real*… Gary

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