Count It All Joy
Many American bubbles burst during the last decade. The housing and financial bubbles were the worst. The belief in American economic invincibility has been shaken.
Christians were not immune from the collapse. Christians lost jobs. Christians lost houses. Christians fell into depression. Trials come to good people. We have been told this all along in the Bible.
Among those who have grappled against despair and feelings that all was lost is Sandi Hixson. She is representative of believers who felt overwhelmed in recent years as their lives were shaken. Someone much like her is part of your church, your Bible study group, your circle of friends. Sandi has been scorched by circumstances, but God has been faithful. We honor her as we honor millions for their perseverance in the face of difficulty and allowing the Lord to transform hard times into a more mature faith.
It is far easier said than done, but wise believers accept the Word’s admonition that faith grows amid our troubles. “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 … Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower” James 1:2–4, 9–10 NIV.
A Common Tale
Sandi and her husband, Larry, had already been struggling for a few years before the economic crash of 2008. When the nation’s housing bubble burst, they once again spiraled downward.
When Sandi hit bottom, God was there. He spoke to her through the Bible. Her spirit was refreshed and she discovered that there is nothing more powerful or encouraging than the truths found in the Word.
“I was reading in Job 13:15: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.’ I came to a conscious decision: I don’t care what happens to me, God—I’m never going to turn away from You.” Her eyes were brimming with tears, as she recalled her decision. It marked the beginning of the end of what Sandi calls her desert experience. In the months and years ahead, she would develop a stronger, more resilient faith in her Lord.
Climbing Toward the Light
As Sandi’s darkness began to lift, she was drawn away from the Book of Job to The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. This passage captured her attention and heart:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:4–7 NIV.
In prayer and tears, she promised God that she would trust Him—no matter what. This faith commitment became her lifeline to recovery and healing, as the Lord sustained her and gave her the peace she sought.
“I learned that I must not worry, but rather be thankful, and present my needs and cares to Him … which would someday bring peace. When I could not bring myself to believe these verses, I would have to literally practice the next few verses, in a childlike way, step-by-step, checking myself to make sure my heart and mind were dwelling on truth and what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I had to dwell on those things.”
Years of Struggle
Turmoil for the couple began taking root in 2004 when Larry’s long-stable home-remodeling business went through a devastating period of reversals. The company was crippled and Larry was forced to shut it down.
Years of hard work ended with them sitting at their kitchen table trying to figure out the next step. They decided to move to Georgia, where their adult children’s families lived. They were confident that their home in Iowa would sell and that a job in Georgia would work out. However, neither happened as life’s road grew steeper and more rocky.
Sandi says, “It was like taking a cookie and watching it crumble,” as all of their hopes and dreams fell apart. Sandi had battled through breast cancer a few years earlier but their time in Atlanta was a spiritual desert of a magnitude the couple had never experienced. The bright spot of their seven years there was living near their four grandchildren.
But job disappointments for Larry defined the first few years in the South. During the same period, a shadow of misery—“an unexplainable negative feeling”—enveloped Sandi’s once-bright outlook on life. She kept waiting for things to get better. But they didn’t.
“The Lord never allowed one thing to flourish in Georgia,” she says. “The first year, I cried myself to sleep every single night.”
A glimmer of light emerged when Sandi was hired by a crafts store as an instructor. She had owned a successful crafts business at one time, so the work was a pleasure. The job lasted an enjoyable five years.
In the meantime, Larry found a stable construction job in 2006 and things seemed to look up for the couple. However, when the economy collapsed, so did that business. For two years they lived on savings that they had faithfully accrued over the years.
The Turning Point
As pressures mounted, Sandi descended further into the pit of her spiritual crisis. Deeply depressed, she would force herself to read her Bible and devotionals. She did this out of obedience, despite her feelings of hopelessness—until the day God turned her attention to Job and Philippians.
Submitting to God’s Word, she began gaining strength and hope. Soon, she began to feel impressed to return to Iowa, a move she had long resisted. Discerning this still small voice of the Lord, the couple moved back to Iowa in 2011, though there was “a deep loss and sadness from not living close to our children and grandchildren.”
A challenge quickly arose when a job that Larry thought he had secured in Iowa did not materialize. However, just as quickly, the job God had for him in Iowa did surface. A “chance” encounter at a Walmart led Larry to an old friend and business associate. Through this meeting, Larry landed a secure job.
The couple also found a modest rental home at a price they could afford that just happened to be owned by old friends. Every detail fell into place, including finding a church where the pastor asked Sandi if she’d be willing to use the church building to teach crafts classes to kids. She shakes her head in amazement at all the ducks that fell into a row so smoothly since moving back to her home state.
“It felt so good—like salve on a wound. We have been loved on by our precious friends and church. Through all of this, I learned that earthly things don’t matter at all,” she says.
Her face breaks into a smile.
“And, with the Lord’s strength, I still like to have fun and laugh. I’m really thankful for that.”
Answers from the Bible
When Sandi Hixson was at her lowest point, she found that Paul’s Letter to the Philippians was a source of strength and renewal.
“I find comfort here in Philippians,” she says. “For me, the key is to be thankful. If I follow what these Scriptures say—and believe them—peace, contentment and trust follow in the face of any circumstances, whether they are good or bad.”
Here are some of the promises and teachings where Sandi found nourishment for her heart.
“…He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6 HCSB. Whatever happens, God is using it to shape me to conform to Christ. I may not understand His plans, but I know that the work He is doing in my life is for my benefit.
“Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” Philippians 1:27. It matters to the Lord how I choose to live my life in front of other people. Lord, help me to exhibit your character in all circumstances.
“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus” Philippians 2:5. Christ reached out to the lepers. He was unafraid of any criticism. He humbled Himself to go to the Cross. Let me live a life in such a worthy manner.
“Do everything without grumbling” Philippians 2:14. Lord, please forgive me when I grumble or get angry or pout because I haven’t gotten my way. Let me accept with joy and thanksgiving whatever you are doing in my life.
“I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” Philippians 3:8. There’s the scale for me, the world on one side and Christ on the other. Let me embrace the Lord and let go of the world.
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6–7. My confidence will be in God. I will let Him know what I need and seek His peace in all things.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” Philippians 4:8. If I can find something good, encouraging, positive and worthwhile, I will focus on that. As for the noise all around me, help me to block it out, Lord.
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot … I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” Philippians 4: 11–13. God sets a high mark for us. Paul himself was beaten, snake-bitten, jailed and maligned through most of his Christian life. Lord, strengthen my commitment to the point where I can live as he did and be content, regardless of my circumstances.