Quote by C. S. Lewis.
This is long overdue but thanks to a friend who emailed me from halfway around the world, I was reminded of this word: Joy. I think “Joy” is the one word that would define my life after my Lordship decision (in which I confessed that Jesus was more than my Savior, but that he was The Boss) besides maybe “Saved” (reconnected with God who is the source of life) and “Relationships” (actually wanting to love and be loved).
I grew up in a well-to-do family in a well-to-do neighborhood. Being someone who was easily amused and “innocent” – aka wide-eyed and gullible – I found it easy to be happy. But it didn’t always remain that way. By the time I was in high school, one word that aptly described me instead was “Jaded”. There was constantly a dark cloud over my head, ready to broil over into a thunderstorm because I was jaded by the pain of experiencing sin in other relationships. I was jaded by the hypocrisy that I witnessed in the church… and myself. I was “done” with relationships and wasn’t interested in making any more. Life was handed to me on a silver platter, but on its top and in its reflection, I just saw sin and I felt sick to be alive and privileged when all I could see was darkness smudging everything up around and within me. I had this chip on my shoulder and thought that maybe one day in heaven, all the lofty words and ideas from the Bible will come true. But on earth? No way. And almost: no thanks.
But thankfully, instead of giving it all up, I stumbled upon an Acts 2 church in college. I was blown away. Even though I firmly sub-consciously held people at an arm or twos’ distance away at the time, I was fixated on the teaching that I heard. I remember hearing non-sugar coated messages from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and how the teacher passages made the passages relevant to even a commoner like me. It sparked something inside, a fizzle that was to eventually catch fire. I couldn’t articulate it back then but was looking for something like this: a slice of heaven on earth. And even in my highly compromised state back then, I recognized that I had tasted and seen it. Hope was rekindled.
A year passed, and then, at a particularly low point, I remember that Truth took a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I remember that in response, I had to finally let go of a grand idol. My grip on this particular idol was very tight because I’ve held onto it for years. So, giving it up was the hardest thing that I had to do in my short lifetime up to that point, but I did it anyway and didn’t look back. I couldn’t do anything else but forgo all of my future plans with this idol, simultaneously sacrificing what I thought was the best of my life to God. I had deeply invested in one way of life, but just like that – poof – it was gone. I had nothing left and nothing to show for myself. I was in a position where I felt like I had no person who understood or knew what was really going on. On top of that, I received condemnation from some of my closest friends while I was struggling to process my own pain inside.
I was a wreck and to put it kindly, relationships in my life were a mess. But somehow, I had this: Joy. I had joy and I had peace, though it made zero sense emotionally and situationally. I prayed to God and never felt alone, even though humanly speaking, it was the loneliest low point in my life. I remember doing and saying dumb things back then because I wanted so much to love God first and foremost. I regret how my actions and words affected others – I definitely wasn’t a good picture of a winsome and understanding Christian back then. I came to learn, later. But at least God knew my heart then, and I knew that He knew. And at the time, that was enough.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51 was written by David at a terrible point in his life: when he realized that he was that kind of a man – a heartless murderer and adulterer. The horror of his sin done against others and God rose up within him and he was overwhelmed by godly sorrow and contriteness of heart. He knew that his sins were first and foremost against God and he begged God to let his Spirit remain. In that kind of low, he knew what he needed: salvation again, from himself and his sinful heart. The joy of salvation that was more real than the curse of his betrayal to so many: God, Uriah, Bathsheba, his people. As he wept over his sins in repentance, he knew where his heart wanted to soar back to. He yearned to go back to the good old days, the sweet times of joy when there was no ugliness of sin that hindered his relationship with God. With God, there was joy, so the disconnect of that relationship due to sin caused David to deeply agonize and repent. He wanted to remain with the God whom he loved and greatly feared the imagined possibility that God might take his Holy Spirit from him.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… ~ Galations 5:22
Right after love – the definition of relationship – joy and peace are listed as the signs that show that the Spirit is in you. David sought for that in his relationship with God. And the great news was that God was someone who had mercy on him. This is not excluded to just David! Just as David was pardoned for his sins, God also wants to show us mercy as well. In fact, Jesus already absorbed the just punishment for our sins by taking dying for us on our behalf. So, even we can claim that joy and victory have the last word over our sins. And even if not all is reconciled here on earth, sin and death will be totally and finally defeated in heaven. As Christians, that joy will never stop because we have a connection with God that will never be taken away from us – whether it’s the indwelling Spirit now or the fully revealed glory later.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:37-39
God’s love and will not only encourage and support us in the down times, but it can actually bolster and galvanize us: we are conquerors, no matter what! Guys, in the bruising that we will face while struggling with sin within and without on earth, we know what’s ultimately going to happen. We don’t have to wilt in fear because we know who’s on the winning team and once we’re included, there are no cuts. We can bet big time on this relationship we have with God. And guess what? This kind of joy is available for everyone.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” ~ Luke 2:10
Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. ~ John 16:24
What else is good news of great joy that will be for all? That you won the latest iPad from that random drawing? No, nothing else really can compare and be this widespread and personally relevant besides the fact that Jesus came to save you from your sins. This kind of truth and joy stands undaunted across circumstances and time. If you want it, you just need to ask.
My life right now? For a few months, I was a wreck and to put it kindly, relationships in my life were a mess. On top of that, I received condemnation from some of my closest friends while I was struggling to process my own pain inside. I was in a position where I felt like I had no person who understood or knew what was really going on. I did and said dumb things because I wanted so much to love God first and foremost. I regret how my actions and words affected others – I definitely wasn’t a good picture of a winsome and understanding Christian. I am coming to learn, now. But at least God knows my heart, and I know that He knows. And at this time, it is enough.
And I had to re-find this day after day: Joy. And because of that, I can claim that I have joy and I have peace, though it makes zero sense emotionally and situationally. I’ve been praying to God and even though I felt alone humanly speaking at times, I know that I’m not alone because God is with me.
Interesting enough, often when the word “joy” appears in the bible, it’s partnered with suffering. Kind of strange, right? Somehow, this actually kind of makes sense. After all, “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” we Christians say, along with all sorts of other at-first-glance-seemingly-bizarre-yet-so-settling-true oxymorons that we just assume as the norm. But anyway, the joy of salvation is always there even in the midst of your own and others’ sins and tragedies. In fact, it’s only during the downtimes, the non-blossoming / flashing of swords / trial times, that joy really sticks out as that chord that undergirds it all because somehow, it completely overrides the tune of the notes of death that would otherwise have the last word in this waltz of life.
No, it’s not enough to have a “happy” personality – haven’t we all been depressed beyond words and action at some point? The real source of joy is in nothing other than salvation – our restored relationship with God. It’s only when there’s no other earthly reason to be hopeful will the heavenly hope stand strong and reassert itself. Though, is it right to feel mournful and embattled in the meantime? In a sense, yes – the battle is not over, and we still need to win as many as we can to our side. It’s almost right to feel the stress of pressure: although salvation means that we may have personally won the spiritual lottery, it would be weird if we were completely undisturbed by the Great Commission and untouched by the peril that we see around us every day. Even in our own hearts, we still have strongholds that we need to fight tooth and nail to conquer in the name of our God. Yes, our salvation because of God’s love is secure. But the pending threat of possibly losing others while we try to help them accept this love from God lest they come to their own downfalls is very real, just as the pain of sin that we victimize others with or get victimized by are very real. But though the distraught of it all may feel unbearable at times, we know, we know. We know what – or rather who – will stand. And because we know that we will stand with him, we can always get up again when we get derailed.
Just as time heals wounds (which may leave scars that sometimes fade on their own), by about the first thousand years or so in heaven, the beginning of eternity is going to wipe away the decades of minute miseries that I’ve come to experience here. Although the scars may remain, the memory of that time will fade and the pain definitely will be forgotten. What will be more real is the overwhelming joy that we have due to our restored relationships with God and others. So, even as we chill with Jesus, who will have some battle scars of his own on his hands and feet, our tears of sorrow will be gone forever because our separation is no more. Imagine: if we ever do cry in heaven, we will only cry tears of joy. So, it’s worth it to be barely alive and sane right now, because this suffering is totally, completely temporary in the light of eternity. And because of that, I can, even now, consider it a joy to undergo another trial.
I like Paul, he was kind of crazy. He said:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.~2 Cor 12:9-10
Masochist? I think yes, but only for Christ’s sake. Like in Acts, he was jailed:
Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. ~Acts 16:24-25
Apostle Paul was beaten, jailed, insulted… but that didn’t cause him to feel down and out. He was happy enough to sing praises! So, even though sometimes, life sucks, I will rejoice:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
No matter how sucky life is, I can always take joy in the God of our salvation. In fact, I will rejoice precisely because it sucks right now:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. ~ James 1:2-3
Wow. Although we may never fully understand all the ins and outs of why sin and suffering is allowed, we see how God can redeem even the trials that we go through.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope… so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.~ Romans 15:13, 32
I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.~ 2 Cor 7:4
For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.~ 2 Cor 8:2
In the examples above, it’s clear that joy doesn’t necessarily mean that things are going well. If those in affliction or in extreme poverty can have overflowing or an abundance of joy, then surely we can too. Joy comes with being right before God and finding that others also have that connection with God as well. All else is completely and totally secondary.
Ok. You all knew that it was coming. I’m gonna bring it back to Jesus now:
Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~ Hebrews 12:2
How else can I share in my Savior’s heart? By sharing in his suffering – in following after him, hard, and experiencing heartache for my own sins and others’ sins. I can hate my sins with a burning jealousy to keep my heart pure and committed to God above the idols that vie for my attention. When I feel cut and wounded deeper than I expected others to ever pierce my heart, I can absorb the pain and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Instead of striking back, I can forgive and open myself up to risk even further hurt as I proceed to try to love others again, because that’s just what love does. I can die to my pride and to the hardness of my heart and still desire to bless others, even if I feel betrayed. After all, that’s what Jesus did for me in his joy of anticipating full restoration, so I can – I must – do no less for the others whom he wants me to love.
Joy? It’s mine, even in the saddest and sickest of times, because my salvation is sure. Heaven? Yeah, my joy will be complete then. But in the meantime, I’ll still rejoice and consider suffering a blessing because it brings me closer to the heart of my God.