Conclusion (or, "Brown Eyes and Buster")
Frances and I met in church in the spring of 1976. We became friends before our courtship began, and often frequented a local restaurant after church to talk about the Lord, our lives, and whatever subject might come up (and, unbeknownst to us initially, to fall in love).
One day, Frances shared with me about a passage in the book of James. "The Lord is teaching me," she said, "to count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations" (James 1:2). I was familiar with the command, having been disturbed by it several times already in my still fledgling Christian life.
"Oh, it doesn't mean that" I immediately responded with an air of 19 year old male wisdom and authority (now there's an oxymoronic phrase!). I'm quite certain I expected my pontification to end the discussion, hoping to move on to less challenging matters.
Frances, however, was not dazzled by my spiritual brilliance, insight, and cocksure demeanor. "What do you mean that it doesn't mean that?" She looked directly into my green eyes with her beautiful, but piercing brown eyes.
I would come to learn over the years that the brown eyes usually win. I averted my gaze to avoid their challenge, and repeated, "Well, it doesn't mean that."
Frances didn't divert her gaze. She rather looked at me with puzzlement and consternation (a word of advice: in matters of Scripture, one does well not to raise questions with Frances about their authority and obvious meaning). "If it doesn't mean that," she said, "then what does it mean?"
I didn't have the foggiest idea. I just knew it couldn't possibly mean that we are to count as "all joy" every trial and tribulation of our lives. And that's what I what I told her. Frances paused for a brief moment, gathered her thoughts, and then declared, "Well, buster (she didn't actually say "buster." But it felt like she did!), "Well, until you can tell me what it does mean, I think I'll just take it at face value!"
More than thirty eight years later, she still does so. I joined the parade of faith not too long after the aforementioned episode as I witnessed Frances exemplify and affirm the truth of counting it all joy. James meant what he wrote. Even more, our Heavenly Father meant what James wrote. He unequivocally calls us to consider every trouble of our lives in the joy of His working all things after the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Note that He does not call us to "feel" our challenges joyfully, but to count them so, that is, to view them through the lens of the faith that sees His involvement in all things. Sometimes sorrow will wrack our hearts and tears will stream from our eyes as we look Heavenward to affirm joy in Christ - "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (II Corinthians 6:10). Joy begins with conviction and faith as we choose to "rejoice in the Lord" regardless of condition, circumstance, or emotional sensibility (Philippians 4:4). Glad feeling will come later as God vindicates the confidence we choose to maintain when our world seems to be crashing in upon us and our hearts feel crushed. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the sea" (Psalm 46:1-2).
Again, Frances continues to count it all joy. As for "Buster," well, I'm learning. I'm grateful for the example with whom I live this life in which God's presence and loving involvement fills all things. Yes, it does mean that. We can and must affirm the joy of Christ in all things and at all times. We do so because His joy resides within our spirits if we have believed, and because failure to count it all joy means that we are living in the darkness and delusion that chooses not to see Truth and reality. Too much was sacrificed to bring us in the Light for such unbelief to govern our hearts, and too much is at stake in our lives to count our challenges, whatever their nature, as anything but "all joy."
"Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness."
Weekly Memory Verse
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.