by Shane Cannon, Pastor, Mesa Christian Fellowship, Pueblo, CO
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”James 1:2-4
In all my years in ministry, I cannot remember ever being angry with a passage of Scripture. And though it may not sound particularly pastoral or spiritual, I recently found myself angry and arguing with God over one of the best known and beloved passages in the Bible.
Early in the morning on July 6th, I was lying in my bed asleep when I had a massive seizure. I had never had a seizure before. However, this seizure was violent enough to dislocate my right shoulder forward and my left shoulder backwards, breaking several bones in each shoulder. I was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. I spent a week in the hospital and another 8 weeks with both arms completely immobilized. In the midst of all this, God brought to mind a verse that I had read hundreds of times, James 1:2. I recall many moments of angry tears as I argued with God, swearing to Him that there could be no joy in this situation.
I understand that for some this may not be a trial worthy of such anger and confusion. But if God is an intimate God and our trials are meant to mature us, then every trial is custom made for each individual. This is definitely true for me. You see, I pride myself in being a strong man, both physically and spiritually. I could carry anything on my shoulders; my church, my children, and my wife. But in an instant, those shoulders became weak and useless. I will spare you the details of how incredibly humiliating it is to lose the use of your arms. However, if you are curious to know more, I would encourage you to tie both arms to your waist for 24 hours. You will quickly understand! So I began to argue and challenge God on the truth of joy in trials. How could there be any joy in this?! How could any of this work for the good of me, my family, or my church?!
After several weeks of this, I began to see my first glimpse into what God was doing. I saw my church grow through this trial, taking ownership of the ministry like never before and ministering to me as beautifully as I had ever ministered to them. In addition to this, I began to hear testimonies of how God was working in individual leaders within the church and how He was accomplishing great things in their hearts. As I saw this beautiful picture unfold, I found my congregation experiencing joy in the midst of this trial. I have a deep love for my church family, and if my pain was simply meant to accomplish this joy in them, it was worth it.
However, I think the natural question is how have I found personal joy in the midst of this? How have I experienced joy in my growth and the work God is doing in me? The truth is, I haven’t…yet. You see, I am still in the midst of the humbling. God is still breaking me. I am constantly wearied by the pain it causes me to do simple tasks. I am still humiliated that I cannot take a shower or dress myself without help. I am still broken hearted by the fact that I cannot pick up my young children or embrace my wife. Though I have felt joy for my church, there have been no feelings of joy for me. I would like to say I smiled through this whole ordeal, counting on God to do amazing things. But the fact is, I needed a glimpse into the joy of my church family. I needed to see how God was working in them in order for my faith to be strengthened. So now, as I look forward to two more months of difficult and painful recovery, I do not plan on feeling a great amount of joy, at least not in the beginning. But I am now considering this trial as something joyful. Why? Because I know there is brokenness in me, and I am certain that my loving Father is working to make me mature and complete. Though the road is still painful, I am planning on joy!