Only eight words.
Eight words I grasp with my mind. Eight words I pray grace to live till I die.
These eight words: Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.
Choose what you didn’t choose is really just another way to say what James said 2000 years ago: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters when you meet trials of various kinds.” Which starts with learning to welcome- not to resent- life’s interruptions.
A lesson it may take a lifetime to learn.
Interruptions Are Real LIfe
The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination! —C.S. Lewis
That quote exploded my big-plan, little-margin life when I first read it years ago. Sometimes I still chafe when my plans are interrupted and I have to wait.
But He’s changing me. I know that because when the red line that suddenly popped up on my Google map had me praying just now, not grumbling, while our van crawled along for miles. And when my day-off plans were quick shortchanged by a call from the school nurse, I could count that “trial” right.
Because waiting for the green line and tending a sick son are precisely the “real” life God is sending me.
Count It All Joy
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
We will be interrupted and we will be tried. Which is why James wrote when you meet trials, not if. And that means we need to commit before they hit to count our interruptions and trials as-you guessed it- joy.
So trials are inevitable and they often come on us suddenly, like interruptions.
Which explains why James used a word that means “meet” or “fall into.” It’s the same word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan when a man fell among robbers, and in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was on struck a reef. The word emphasizes the surprise nature of trials.
Trials can come on suddenly. But all trials- internal and external- are tests by God intended to make us strong and mature and complete.
But you know what happens when we’re not tested?
There’s a striking illustration of that in Jeremiah 48. “Moab has been at ease since his youth,” the prophet wrote. Moab was a neighboring people to Israel. They’d lived an easy life; undisturbed and at ease.
John MacArthur closed a sermon on James 1:2-4 with an explanation of that Jeremiah text. It has to do with wine-making. With dregs. Verse 12 says, “Neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor and his aroma has not changed.”
When wine is fermented initially it is a combination of what is sweet and what is bitter. The liquid was poured into a skin and left for a long time. Eventually, the bitter part would fall to the bottom and become what we call the dregs.
After a period of time what was on the surface was then poured into another skin and another passage of time would yield more dregs. After some time it would be poured into another skin and a few more dregs until finally it could be poured into a skin and there would be no dregs at all because all of that had been removed in that process.
What you had at the end was the pure wine.
Sweet, Pure Wine
We want to be pure wine.. We don’t want to retain a bitter flavor and musty aroma.
But without trials- trials counted joy- we’ll stay bitter and musty. Moab’s problem was that he was never poured from trial to trial to trial. Moab’s sinful, bitter dregs never went out.
That’s why maybe we don’t always pray for smooth and ease. Why, by grace, we don’t fall apart when trials and delays come our way. Why we can say, If God needs to pour me from vessel to vessel, and trial to trial to so the sinful dregs of my life can fall to the bottom and pure, sweet wine of righteousness remains, then bring on the trials.
And, somehow, to count them all joy. Which means we learn to choose what we didn’t choose.
Choose What You Didn’t Choose
Choose to see the interruptions as sent by God for our good. See the sickness that keeps us home and flat tires that slow us down, infertility that blocks a dream and relationships that break our hearts as for our good. That we might be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Christian joy is grounded in our union with Jesus, and that union, not our plans coming to pass is the fountain for our joy, which sounds and is supernatural. Murray M’Cheyne’s words, “It is always been my ambition to have no plans as regards myself.”
But that sure grates against our 21st century plan-oriented sensibility, doesn’t it?
Despite the autonomy and self-determination we have, much of life consists of things we didn’t choose. And as one friend just reflected- most of her life’s greatest joys were unplanned. Is that true for you?
Control is an illusion anyway, but we can choose joy.
Because saint’s trials are purposeful. They come to test our faith. The boot box says waterproof, but we don’t know till we hike in the rain. We say we trust God, but we don’t know till trials come our way. Alistair Begg makes it plain, Faith is a muscle. Test it and it grows. Leave it alone and it atrophies.
The pressure builds endurance. Kind of like boiling eggs. But if we pull the egg out before the pressure’s done, the good won’t come. If you don’t leave the egg in hot water long enough, it’ll be a useless mess.
Let perseverance finish its work, James 1:4 says. Get ‘er done, mama says. Finish the work. Don’t pull out of the pot before the pressure’s done.
South African pastor Andrew Murray shares four truths that helped him to joyfully endure trials:
- I am here (in this trial) by God’s appointment. It’s not haphazard.
- I am in his keeping. He will hold me fast.
- In appointing my trials and keeping me, I am in his training program.
- I am in his training program as long as he wants me there.
Choose what you didn’t choose. Count it all joy. If we’re going to be spiritual adults we can’t be dodging his purposes.
Let the egg boil already.
Alistair Begg says, trials responded to properly are always fruitful. That’s Begg’s code, I think, for Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.
We accept that life is change and until the day day we die there will choices made for us that we did not choose. And we can resent the choices we didn’t make for ourselves or we can choose joy.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t waste it. Choose what you didn’t choose. Choose joy. Because Someone who knows the beginning and the end sees it all and steers it all and loves you more than you can fully know, let those trials meet you.
They were traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.
If You Knew Everything You Knew
Tim Keller said it this way, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.
The fullness of the Christian life is available where you are now. You don’t need a dreamy husband or cuddly kids. You can be full and complete without a great church that sings the songs you like and work and ministry you crave. I can be full and complete without a bigger blog or a published book.
Which is not to say, don’t change your circumstances if you can (see 1 Corinthians 7:20-31). But it is to say, don’t buy the lie you can’t be full and complete until you do. In Christ, you can (see Colossians 2:9-12).
Fullness and joy comes from being with Christ. In your presence is fullness of joy, David knew.
So choose His presence. Joy will come.
The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now.
And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.