Recently, as Lois and I have been dealing with life, Doug Webster shared the following with us and it was a great encouragement. These words describe both where we are and where we want to be. We will stay in this story. Our children and grandchildren will continue to tell and re-tell this story. It is the story of God. No matter what your circumstances today, this is for you, too.
“Life is shorter than you think. In Christ, there is more than enough strength and joy for this short journey. I agree with the apostle Peter when he wrote, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).
“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:4-6)
Joy is characteristic of the Christian journey. “Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience” (Peterson, Long Obedience, 92). We know that joy doesn’t come from entertainment or adventure or money or prestige. We can’t order it on-line and expect it to be delivered. Nor is joy dependent on good health and avoiding pain.
Joy is nurtured by living in God’s great salvation history. Everyone has a story, but only one story redeems our story. To use the imagery of Psalm 126, joy is often grown by sowing in tears. Suffering, pain, hardship and loneliness are not absent in Christian joy. We are tempted to eliminate things that hurt and live selfish lives. But disappointment and grief is the hard ground we sow our seeds in—that’s life. Happiness equates adventure with vacations; joy equates adventure with ministry.
“Joy is what God gives, not what we work up. Laughter is the delight that things are working together for good to them that love God” (Peterson, 96; Romans 8:28). Happiness is an escape from boredom; joy embraces those in need. Joy involves a reality bigger than our circumstances. Joy is a grace greater than our grief, rooted in the love that will never let us go, no matter what We don’t have a right to such a joy, much less the power to create such a joy, but we do have the God-given capacity to receive this joy and to cling to it even in desperate times. When tragedy strikes worldly happiness is always the first to go, but true joy is the joy that lasts even when everything else is lost. Job was a man at the end of his rope, filled with despair and anguish, but he imagined one remaining consolation, “My joy in unrelenting pain, that I had not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10). To deny this one relationship would have been to deny joy itself, but Job was not about to do that.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”
God’s grace is greater than our grief. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, 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 minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
No guilt of life, no fear of death / This is the power of Christ in me /From life’s first cry to final breath / Jesus commands my destiny / No power of hell, no scheme of man / Can ever pluck me from His hand / ‘til He returns or calls me home / Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
(In Christ Alone Lyrics by the Newsboys)