Brian Zahnd: Encourage Yourself in God

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Think Yourself Happy

The apostle James was the ?rst pastor of the ?rst church. He spent his life in pastoral ministry, and from his experi­ence he was well equipped to give counsel on how people should respond when facing a trial. In the ?rst chapter of his epistle, James gives some vital information about how we are to respond in the midst of a trial. He said we are to "count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience." If we allow patience to have its perfect work, we will "be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).

James teaches us that the redeemed should respond to the trials of life completely differently than those who do not have a Christian perspective on life. James teaches us that when we encounter trials, we should "count it all joy." This is a reaction that is de?nitely counterintuitive but part of the Christian distinctive. The word translated "count" is hegeomai. It is an accounting term that means we are to place trials in the joy column of our emotional ledger. We can only do this if we understand the divine purpose behind trials. Hegeomai also means "to rule or exercise authority." In fact, hegeomai was used to refer to an imperial governor. In other words, when you are thrust into a trial, you must become the governor of your emotions and not allow them to run out of control. You must take authority, rule over your feelings, and choose joy as your dominant emotion. Govern your emotions; don't let them govern you.

The apostle Paul uses the word hegeomai when he says, "‘I think myself happy'" (Acts 26:2). Paul was in a trial--literally. He was standing in chains before King Agrippa, charged with insurrection (a crime he did not commit). Insurrection was a capital crime, and Paul's life was at stake in this trial. Paul opened his defense with the words "I think [hegeomai] myself happy." In other words, Paul was saying, "I account myself happy. I rule myself happy. I govern myself happy." In spite of his trial, Paul commanded his emotional state to be one of joy and happiness.

On more than one occasion, I have stood in the ruins of Caesarea where Paul made his bold confession, "I think myself happy." I have stood where Paul stood as an accused criminal, bound with chains, and I have thought, If Paul can make that confession in his great trial, so can I. So, I emulate the faith of Paul. When I ?nd myself in a trial, I think of that judgment hall in Caesarea, and I say, "I think myself happy." I am the governor of my soul realm. I rule my emotions; they don't rule me. I choose the joy of the Lord as my dominant emotion.

James said that in order to count it all joy when you fall into a trial, you must know the divine purpose of trials--producing patience (see James 1:3). Your trial is a test--a test of your faith. Untested faith is of little value, but faith that has been tested and re?ned in the furnace of affliction is the most precious possession a person can have. It's more "precious than gold that perishes," and even though it is tested by ?re, it "may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:7).

We are not interested in a counterfeit faith that is nothing more than a naïve, humanistic optimism; we want ?re-re?ned faith that has been proven in the tests of life. Four times in the Bible we are told to live by our faith (see Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The quality of your Christian life will be a re?ection of the quality of your faith. Faith is the victory that overcomes the ubiquitous troubles we ?nd in this world (1 John 5:4). So, how do you know the quality of your faith? It is revealed in the tests of life--in the days of adver­sity. If we faint in adversity, our faith in God--the source of our strength--is small (see Prov. 24:10).

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He warned Peter that he was about to enter a great trial. Satan was out to get Peter! (See Luke 22:31.) Satan had been observing Simon Peter, and he could not tell if Peter's faith was genuine or counterfeit. Satan, therefore, obtained permission from God to test Peter's faith. Notice that Satan had to ask God for permission before he could put Peter in a trial that would test his faith. The Bible promises that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can endure (see 1 Cor. 10:13). So, you can know for sure that you will never encounter a trial that is too great for your faith.

Jesus told Peter that he would be sifted as wheat. One of the ways wheat is sifted is to place it in a sieve and shake it violently; another way is to toss the grain in the air into a stiff breeze. I have seen this done in India many times. The purpose of this process is to separate the chaff from the wheat. Chaff is ?aky stuff, but wheat has substance. When the wheat is thrown into the air, the wind carries the ?aky chaff away, but the substantive grain falls back to the ground. This is what happens in a trial. You are tossed into the air in the midst of a strong wind, and the ?aky stuff in your life is blown away, but your genuine faith will bring you back to the ground. Some people are all ?aky stuff; they have no genuine faith in their lives. They may talk like they have faith and act like they have faith, but when the storm hits, all of their supposed faith turns out to be just ?aky chaff that is blown away. After a while you cannot ?nd these people; they are not in church anymore, they don't follow Jesus anymore, and they don't believe anymore. They never had real faith in the ?rst place; they just had a ?aky emotional experience that could not stand in the storm and failed the test of faith.

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