Friday, July 11, 2008

The Joy of the Lord in Suffering - C.J. Mahaney

In preparing for this week’s sermon on “Praying for One Another” from James 5:13-16, I came across a recent interview of C.J. Mahaney (former senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland and current president of Sovereign Grace Ministries), by Joshua Harris (current senior pastor of Covenant Life Church) regarding the truth that joy in the Lord is a lesson that is often best learned in the trials of life.

This interview struck me as appropriate considering the first verse of our text for this week: "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). Throughout the Bible we often see a connection between suffering and joy. (I will be focusing on this issue more specifically in a message on the second Sunday of August.) Here is an excerpt of the interview. I pray you will be blessed with as much insight and encouragement by these words as I have been:

Joshua Harris: C.J., I am wondering if there is a personal story in your own life where you experienced—whether it is a trial or a difficulty—a shift where God was helping you realize your joy wasn’t grounded enough in the work that he had done for you?

C.J. Mahaney: Many stories come to mind (and the lessons continue to this day). I wouldn’t want anybody to perceive me as some kind of compelling model of joyfulness on a daily basis. It is a fight I seek to wage on a daily basis. And I can certainly look back and discern instances, circumstances, and periods of time where there was a transfer underway in my life, helping me to shift the ground of my joy from created things to the Creator, a shift from temporary to the eternal.

A pronounced one for me was a ten-year period where I contracted a particular virus that had a debilitating effect on my body and mind on a daily basis. I am reluctant to speak of this and rarely do speak of this, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as I make reference to this period. Though it was challenging, there was nothing life-threatening about this, and I don’t even consider this experience to be suffering, per se. I know people who have suffered. I know people who presently are genuinely, severely suffering.

But for me it was prolonged. It was chronic. It was wearying. It was challenging. And it did remove any sense of happiness or joy, as derived from circumstances, from my life on a daily basis over those years.

So the fight was a particular challenge during that ten-year period. From the wonderful care I have received from my friends and fellow pastors, from the wonderful books that I have read in relation to suffering, from the wonderful examples that I have observed in and throughout Covenant Life Church over the years, and primarily from the clear teaching of Scripture, I was able to see, early on, the many ways God was working. This was intended to be a sanctifying work in my soul.

So one aspect of my sanctification was to be weaned from emotional dependence and weaned from any dependence on circumstances.

Throughout those numerous years, by God’s grace I was able to experience this transition from the ground of my joy being in any way a personality, emotion, or circumstantial, to an appreciation for the person and work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. And I would argue the trial left a purer form of joy.

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