Under Pressure: Count it All Joy

Under Pressure

October 25, 2015

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Rachel Billups

At first glance, stress and joy are about as compatible as oil and water; so why would God actually call us to joy in the best of times and worst? Perhaps we need to get a glimpse of what God can do when life gets tough. Join us for a final weekend in this hard-hitting series:

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Today's Focus

“Count it all JOY”

I.     ...when your faith is exposed
II. ...when you don’t know what you’re doing
III. ...when you get a glimpse of what God can do
There is no passion to be found playing small—
in settling for a life that is less
than the one you’re capable of living. ~ Nelson Mandela
              See this week’s REFOCUS questions for deeper reflection.

Sermon Questions


Questions to go Deeper


When our faith is exposed, when we don’t know what do, when we get a  glimpse of God, we can Count It All Joy. Let’s study God’s wisdom and pray for grace under pressure this week.  Daily devotionals that accompany each day's reading are also available on Facebook. They are created by a great Ginghamsburg unpaid servant team. You do not have to be a Facebook user to access them. View here.
Monday: Read James 1:2-8
How do you feel about being tested and tried? How can the benefits mentioned help you connect with others? How is God active in this process? How does your personal thinking need to change?
Tuesday: Read John 18:15-27
How might trials come because of an unwillingness to claim Christ? Like Peter, how might public denials affect maturity and a faith relationship with Christ? How does withholding your faith from others feel secure but actually provide uncertainty? How did Peter, and how might you, reconcile your public life with your private faith?
Wednesday: Read John 20:24-29
James tells us we may seek God and ask for faith without God finding fault. How was this true for Thomas? Imagine Thomas’ week before seeing Jesus. How might you seek God and faith despite doubt? What habits could you change to not be blown around like the wind and waves?
Thursday: Read James 1:22-25
When have you heard the word, but didn’t do it? Why? How do relationships encourage or hinder an ability to “do what it says”? How does God help? How can we live in the perfect law that freedom gives, but also demonstrate faithful action, by balancing religious belief with religious activity?
Friday: Read Exodus 17:5-7; Numbers 20:10-11
Compare when Moses heard and obeyed with when he heard and didn’t obey? How was Moses in connection with others in each situation? How does our relational health with others affect our ability to hear and do? How can we create a healthy relational network?
Saturday: Read Hebrews 12:1-3
Describe a time of perseverance that produced joy. How does Jesus’ perseverance bring joy? Recall a time of sharing joy with others resulting from perseverance. How do these three testimonies one each from self, Jesus and others encourage you?
Sunday: Review James 1:2-8; 22-26
In what do you feel called to Count It All Joy? How is Jesus involved, and what might he be saying that should be heard and done? Imagine how you may Count It All Joy. Pray for faith to move forward.

Sermon Transcript

October 24 & 25, 2015
Under Pressure: Count It All Joy
Pastor Rachel Billups
James 1:2-8, 22-25


God is Holy, that’s pretty simple to say when you are in this room, in this moment, breathing in the presence of God—but what about out there, through those doors, when we are under pressure? Can we so easily say, Holy God may we be quick to your understanding of our call to Joy? 

Brothers and sisters, we’ve spent the last five weeks naming our pressure, our stress and realizing that we don’t have to live these MEGA stressed-out lives. It’s not that we can avoid stress—we ALL experience stress—sometimes self-inflicted. We’re doing too much stuff and other times it’s the storms of life that we don’t expect that bring with them PRESSURE. 

Pressure is a part of life—we get that, but we also realized that these PRESSURE PACKED moments are OPPORTUNITIES for us to grow, to act, to speak life, to dream, wrestle and to respond with peace to the stress we experience. Today I want to return to scripture the Pastor Mike briefly mentioned in one of his first messages in this series—a scripture about Joy in the middle of intense pressure. 

This scripture is found in James 1—I invite you to pull out your Bibles or smart phones, reach into your bulletin and grab your message maps.

These first Jesus followers were experiencing—the threat of violence—PRESSURE and in the middle of that mess James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV). What? Consider it all pure joy?  This is a really interesting look at pressure—James doesn’t see pressure as problem to be avoided, but as a possibility for JOY.  Count it all joy… count it ALL joy? Most of us aren’t threatened with violence but what about when the deadlines are pressing in and the laundry is piling up? When teacher calls, or the doctor is the bearer of bad news? In times of pressure we should count it all JOY?  Yes… but not in some kind of Christianity, put on a happy face and pretend the pain isn’t real kind of way. We are good at that. In general, we Christians come to church because we’ve learned that this place where we show up and tell how GREAT we are doing, even we were not great. We get really good at faking it. But Joy isn’t about faking it.  I want to let you in on a little secret—we are not going to get out of this life alive—we are all going to die, which means we are all going to experience pain, stress, pressure, brokenness… these are a parts of life—a really important parts of life. James is actually serious about his proposition—Count it ALL joy! He believes that the PATH to JOY is through pressure. But how do we get there?  Not to a place of superficial happiness, but to place where even in the middle of it… JOY. 

But how do we get there? Not to a place of superficial happiness, but to place where even in the middle of it… JOY. We’ll let James lays out the path for us. When he says, “Count it all Joy” –let’s dig a little deeper. Pull your Bibles and smart phones back out and look at verse 2-4,  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 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” (NIV).  

Who wants to be perfect and complete—whole lacking in decision, or security, or peace or energy? Yeah me too! That sound great, but to get there our faith as to be tested—Jesus was, even before his ministry started—his faith was tested in the wilderness. Our faith is going to be tested, so James says to us--Count it all Joy when you are exposed!   

For years here in the USA we’ve told ourselves there are two things that should always keep private—religion and politics—although many people are willing to post their opinions to Facebook—there are lots of time when in conversation people say, “well that’s between me and God,” as though faith is private. 

Like Jesus in my pocket and when it’s to my advantage I pull Jesus out, but when it’s not to my advantage I tuck Jesus right back in. But here’s the problem; when we are face to face with pressure, our faith is exposed. It’s forced into the open to show it’s true colors! When you get the call from the doctor, when you are stress, when you’ve got a decision to make people are watching, not because they want someone who fakes it—they don’t want someone to up on a happy face and pretend that the pain is not real—but because people desperate to see how people, real life people navigate some the darkest and most difficult moments of life and still have faith in God. 

Those trials—they expose us, when faced with divorce, disease, discomfort, disillusion—people want to know how are we going to respond. It’s why we want life to be easy—we don’t want people to know our true colors, right? But testing—being exposed is opportunity for God to some major heart work in our lives that leads to Joy.

When I was in my 20’s, I had a really close friend, a pastor whose wife one day just up and said, “I don’t want to be a pastor’s wife anymore.” You talk about testing, and exposure—let me tell you, it was awful! Now I don’t know what their day in and day out looked like—I just know that their relationship was broken. She left and didn’t come back—I fully expected my friend to be angry, bitter, and resentful—you know a HOT MESS.  And he was, but he didn’t stay there. He let God mend his brokenness with Joy.  

The Japanese have this practice where if they break something that ceramic they put it back together, but not with glue, but with gold—as they are mending, healing this shatter pot, it’s become something more beautiful than it was before. (Show picture of ceramic pot.)

My friend had a choice—stay there shattered on the floor or place his life—his broken pieces—in the hand of God who would heal it through Joy? He placed his life in God’s hand. It started with simple decisions—like making his kids his number one priority, setting healthy boundaries with time and relationships. I’ve never experience a person hold to faith and frankly man up like my friend did.  Before he was a working dad in ministry—kids were kids, but became his number one priority; he created very clear, but healthy boundaries in his life. Moment by moment, God healed his brokenness—from a mess into a miracle. Moment by moment—the man chose the path to JOY.  In all these years I’ve never heard him speak an ill word of his ex-wife—amazing. His faith—exposed, tested out in the open forced to show it’s true colors—and that moment he chose the path to JOY.    

Count it all joy when you’re exposed—it’s opportunity walk the path to Joy. But sometimes when we are exposed we don’t know what to do. Take moment and look around you—go ahead—the person next to you doesn’t have this faith thing all figured out. So turn to one of your neighbors and say, “I don’t know what heck I am doing.” There’s something freeing about that isn’t there? We don’t always know what we are doing.  Even the most seasons Jesus followers in the room don’t have this all figure out. In fact, I find that more I fall in love with Jesus—the less I have totally figured out.  But James says to us Count it all joy when you don’t know what you are doing… when we don’t know what we are doing; we are driven to prayer. 

Look at verse 5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1: 5-8 NIV).  

Is there anyone in the room that could use a little more wisdom? Yeah, me too! James says, “If that’s the case, just ask.” Because we worship a God who gives wisdom when we ask for it and not only gives it, but gives it generously without judgment! Now let’s just sit there for second—you mean to tell me that God freely and generously gives wisdom to those who ask—particular those who are lost and clueless? Preacher, you mean I don’t have to have it all together, I don’t have to clean up my life, I don’t be doing this church thing for year—if I ask God is going to help me deal with my pressure, and not just deal, but have wisdom when dealing…yes!  Yes—when you find this faith thing really hard—all you have to do is ask for God to give you wisdom, pour it over us, and God will do it.

One of the writers I follow is a woman named Anne Lamott. I first read Anne’s Traveling Mercies about decade ago, and it was refreshing. (Show picture of book.) Now I am going to warn you if you are easily offended by colorful language, do not read Anne’s book, but if you want to read the testimony of a sinner saved by the grace a Jesus Christ who remains a little rough around the edges, you dive right in. Anne is writing about being a single mom, alcoholic, kind of terrible with men when she realizes there are only two prayers that she thinks we ever pray to God, the first is Help me, Help me, Help me.  And the second is Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Both prayers are painfully simple, but extremely helpful as we walk through pressure on the path to JOY. Help me, help me, help me—is humility and vulnerability—God I don’t know what I am doing, so I need your wisdom, I need your help. And second is prayer of trust and gratitude—Thank you God you are good, Thank you God you are faithful, Thank you… you can be trusted. When are grateful for all it, the good, the bad, and the in-between—we see the opportunities in front of us—we aren’t clouded by pain, anger, bitterness, and grief. We see what God can do even in the most difficult of circumstances—gratitude—naming God’s simple gifts in our lives—changes us, changes the world we see.   

The roadblock to humility and gratitude is ego. It’s ego that keeps us from being driven to prayer. We think that we can do this faith thing on our own, that we are suppose to display some kind of spiritual toughness, but the strongest, boldest, most powerful action that we can take as follower of Jesus Christ, is to pray. Prayer opens our minds, our hearts, our bodies and our hands to receive joy.  It’s through prayer get perspective—we get a glimpse of what God is really doing in our lives and in the world.  Through prayer—we check our ego at the door—just this week I heard seasoned pastor say that ego stand for Edging God Out—not giving God the space to move in our hearts and in our lives—yep that’s about right. But more anything God want us to give God space to walk right in. Let’s review: Count it all joy—when you are expose—count it all joy when—you don’t know what you are doing.

We’ll finally count it all joy when we get a glimpse of what God can do! When are faith is exposed, when we are driven to prayer, we begin to see the real movement of God in our lives in and in the lives of others… why?

Let’s look at verse 22-25, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV).  

When we walk the path way from pressure to Joy, we allow God to mend our brokenness—some of that healing come when we pouring our lives into the lives of others. While living in Durham, North Carolina, I was sitting in the stands of South Granville High School football game when I got the call Henry had died. Ruth and Henry Copley had been married for over 60 years, and that night they ate dinner together, Henry sat in his favorite chair took a breath and died. I remember Ruth face—the pain, the sorrow, it’s like a part of her died with Henry. Ruth wasn’t the nicest of ladies; she was kind of cankerous old lady. In fact she preferred that I call her Mrs. Copley. But when face to face with pressure, a real storm in her life, Mrs. Copley had that same choice—did she continue to live into the gaping whole that Henry’s death created—lay broken on the floor or she would allow this pressure, this pain to be the path way to Joy. She began to pray, “What now, Lord?” After 60 years of marriage, it’s hard to imagine life without Henry. Do you hear it… “Help me, help me, help me.” The answer—a glimpse of what God can do—Ruth started spending her fear time serving others, first going on traveling tea parties, where should back bunt cakes and take to the church folk at nursing homes. Ruth was in her 80s and so she was visiting her peers, sharing with them, praying with them, gathering around a table with cake and lemonade—a glimpse of what God can do. In the year that followed Henry’s death, I say that woman pour life into others, we become a doer of the word. She visited the sick, played games with kids at the local homeless shelter and poured her resources into the Student Ministry. She didn’t serve out of guilt or obligation—no, she look at her gifts, baking, talking and hospitality; and she shared those gifts with the world. She took action, it wasn’t overnight, it didn’t happen in a day, but day after day sticking with it, taking action, Ruth found herself in a really good place, a place where she could pray… “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”   

Count it all Joy when we see the movement of God in our lives and in the lives of others!  So how about you? Where in your life is God calling you to pour yourself out, to be a doer of the word, to experience God’s sweet relief through serving the other. Jesus said, to his closest friends and to us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16: 24-25 NIV). We are a poured out people—and it’s in pouring ourselves out that we experience the Joy of God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others. 

Count it all Joy—all of it when you are stress out, under pressure, you exposed, you don’t know what you are doing, and you catch a glimpse of God’s movement in your life.  


I invite to enter into a time of prayer with me. Thank you, thank you thank you—name what you are thankful for—where do you see Joy in your life?

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