November 15, 2021
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
My youngest daughter, Lily, taught me a new word recently. She’s 17 and brilliantly insightful. She’s the Professor of Empathic Wisdom & Encouragement on the faculty here. The word is “Sonder.” Though it is apparently still making its way to the dictionary, it is a real word. And my autocorrect wants to keep changing it to “wonder” (which is a delicious irony as you will soon see).
To sonder means to realize that every single person you come across and encounter is experiencing a life just as complicated, complex, and intricately challenging as yours is.
As we have journeyed together through these texts of wilderness and struggle and faith over these past several weeks, I have heard from so many of you of how you have been particularly and deeply encouraged by Jesus. He has sondered among us, hasn’t he? Stories of job losses, sickness, cancer, financial distress, broken marriages, wayward children, besetting addictions, tragic deaths, even suicide, and these are the challenges and hardships being endured by some of Jesus’ most faithful followers. Imagine the multitudes of people without Jesus navigating these waters.
Country music theologian, Martina McBride, sang it this way, “Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world.” To that I would add this. In the house of Love, which is the house of God, there is a hard-to-find-room where pain finds its purpose. That room is joy.
Don’t you find it interesting that James, who in v.1 says, James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings” launches into v.2 with this:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
How’s that for an opening line! To the followers of Jesus scattered all over the world. . . Hello. . . I know things are really hard right now. You are struggling mightily with all kinds of difficulties and trials. I have two surprising words to share with you: 1. Pure 2. Joy.
Why? James begins this way because this is how life is for everyone, and because the followers of Jesus have an opportunity to play the long game with pain and become signposts of the slow-rising beauty of redemption. He says “Consider it pure joy,” because Jesus can and will assign purpose to your pain. He can and will bring transformation into your trial. Don’t let the first four letters of then word testimony be lost on you.
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
A word of caution for encouragers. It is not encouraging for people in a painful trial to hear things like, “God has a reason for everything,” as though he has somehow purposed and designed this suffering for our good. That’s not encouraging. It’s really just a way we shield ourselves from the insecurity we feel when something bad happens to someone good. Everything that happens is not God’s will, but God has a will in everything that happens.
To encourage someone in the midst of a trial is to greet them with the embrace of Jesus, welcome them into the House of Love, and sit with them until they are ready to walk again. And then wander in the wilderness with them until Jesus leads them into the room of Joy, where he, himself, in his timing assigns purpose and meaning to the painful trial. It can take years. This is what he does. He doesn’t need explainers. He needs people who will sonder and then wander and then wonder but mostly to love, love, love. That is the shape and sequence of encouragement.
Sondering is step one. It is the deep disposition of an encourager, moving about daily life knowing every single person we pass is dealing with a complex set of challenges and likely facing some level of pain and often just struggling with every fibre of their being to hold it together. And this is not to mention the people we already know and love. To sonder is to walk about with wonder at the “trials of many kinds” everyone around us is dealing with every day.
Jesus sonders. Thanks Lily.
Father, thank you for always listening, for hearing our cries of desperation, for loving us. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to sonder among us; to wander alongside us and reinterpret even the worst suffering of all—his own—and thereby to reinterpret our own trials. Oh Jesus, how we need you, and how we need more of you in us so you can be with others in and through us. Come Holy Spirit and lead us deeper into this marvelous mystery for nothing is more encouraging than this. In Jesus name, Amen.
Everything that happens is not God’s will, but God has a will in everything that happens. How do you deal with this concept? What is the difference?
P.S. THE NEXT MAJOR BIG THING WE ARE DOING
As goes the Pastor, so goes the Church. We are hearing from Jesus a long game calling to encourage, build-up, and deeply invest in the Shepherds of the Kingdom– our local church Pastors. The global pandemic has challenged us all, but it has uniquely challenged our shepherds. In 2022 we will begin a multi-year campaign to renew the heart and restore the awakening calling of these leaders. Please click on one (or both) options to register interest:
For the Awakening,