The Cost of Joy
In Bible Study this week, we looked at John 16: 16-24:
“Jesus went on to say, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’”
“At this, some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?’ They kept asking, ‘What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.’”
“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, ‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’”
Here, and throughout Scripture, God seems to bind fast together sorrow, grief and suffering inextricably with joy. It seems to be a divine, spiritual version of “no pain, no gain.” This spiritual truth is particularly troubling for the affluent mind.
Joy is not an emotion; it is an attitude, as state of the mind and heart. It is a promised fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), just like another popular fruit of the Spirit: patience. As most of us know, ‘it is a fearful thing to ask the living God for patience.’ That is one prayer He often joyfully answers…by giving us trials that test and stretch our patience. It is very much like a gym workout, and you know it’s working when you can ‘feel the burn.’ If that is what He does for one Spiritual fruit, it stands to reason that He will do similar for the others.
Thus the ‘gift’ of joy is one that must be practiced and built up, like a little used muscle.
The problem for the affluent is that we tend to use our resources to keep suffering at bay, to control our environment and limit opportunities for catastrophe. There is nothing inherently wrong with this—as we learned from John Walton in the recent Vibrant Dance summaries, the Biblical concept of ‘rest’ has more to do with subduing enemies, establishing order, and control over our surroundings, than it does with lazing by the pool with a cool drink at hand.
God has given us, as a rule, rest in this country, and we have taken full advantage of it. However, even during the Exodus, the Lord expressed concern to Moses that when Israel entered the Promised Land, they would forget in their ease and rest, and turn from God because their perceived need for His active presence in their lives would atrophy. The last fifty years in America has screamed this truth from the very steps of the courthouse and is echoing off of the majestic purple mountains.
Christians know deep down that our lives are supposed to have a quality about them that stands out from the norm and draw people to them and to the Gospel, the Good News. But in a land of our prosperity, the full measure of the Good News says unpleasant things that don’t seem to jive with our perception of reality. Furthermore, as we use our wealth to insulate us from the darker parts of life, we tend to lose our joy as we feel in control and manage our resources. Joy suffers because we see hiccups in our happiness as failures in our control of our circumstances. It then becomes our struggle and aim to maintain control because it seems to depend on us. When you are fully convinced that you are not in control and that someone far more qualified is, then you are free from the worry control brings and joy can blossom.
Think of air travel. Some people love to fly because they fully trust the pilot and the plane to get them to their destination, and they are free to relinquish control of their lives to the pilot for that time. Compare that to the person afraid of flying who is unable to relinquish that sense of control, and worries the whole time. There is a complete lack of joy in that person’s heart.
Also, think of those whom you know have that deep sense of abiding, unshakeable joy. Once you learn about their life, you will be hard pressed to find someone who has not had profound grief, suffering or sorrow. Human culture demands that we build up defenses, that we be strong, that we prepare ourselves for the battles of life. A joy-filled person will likely tell you that they used to be that way, but the trials in their life beat them to a pulp until their barriers, their hardness were crushed. At that point, they learned equanimity, peace, surrender. They learned to bend with circumstances, and to truly trust God as the pilot through their turbulence and relinquish the need to feel in control and to worry.
In all honesty, I am afraid to ask God for joy. I am not ready to pay the cost. I have not yet come to see its value as being sufficiently greater than the cost to be willing to pay it. Paul insists that ‘these light and momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (II Cor 4:17) In my head, I know it to be true. My heart and will haven’t boarded that flight yet, and are still even refusing to enter the airport. However, I know that God will bring me to that time and place, whether I am ready or not, for as one pastor put it, “trials are God’s required curriculum.” We can register now, or later, but graduation will not come until the curriculum is complete.
The plane will land safely, and graduation will come, and with them, we will find ourselves in a place where no one will take away our joy
Day 16 Praise: It is the Wisdom of God to provide others who act as mirrors to reveal our need for His hand in sanctifying us. (“Does this attitude make me look sinful?”)