Monday, October 24, 2016

Joy in the Journey, Pt. 4


There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4

We have been saturated with the belief that we must always be oozing joy.  But difficult things in life happen...

Like when you wake up one morning and your vision is double.  A quick appointment with the ophthalmologist tells you that things should shortly return to normal - but they don't.  Your eyes get worse and it leads to an appointment with a neurologist which leads to a stay in the hospital in a foreign country and more tests and flying home to see a specialist.  With one short diagnosis, what you believed your future would look like crumbles to pieces like a vase that the cat just knocked over.

Like when you see your brand new friend at church and her son is in a pain and they've decided they need to go home.  You email back and forth because somehow in shared suffering you are able to encourage one another.  But you hear the pain and the exhaustion between the lines.  You cry out to God as you grieve over her son going through chemo therapy and this mom hurting so deeply with her son's suffering.

Like when you are sitting in a bar in Bangkok, watching girls be sold for five minutes of pleasure.  You lock eyes with them and see rivers of pain masked by thick makeup and a plastered on smile.  You grieve as you smile at them, hold out your hand and try to give them in a few short hours a moment of relief and safety, a glimpse into a joy that can't be stolen from them like so much has been, a hope that there is life after this...

Like when you call your parents and find out your dad needs open heart surgery.  You are so very, very far away and feel helpless in this time that you want to be there, sitting by his side, working on a talk about joy - together.

These are a few glimpses of times during this past year when my joy could have been stolen.  There are seasons in life when God asks us to open our hands and give Him our dreams about the future.  When He wants us to fall on our face and beg Him for healing of the sick.  He wants us to see the least of these and extend love to them.

We see from Jesus very own life that He had moments of deep emotion where joy wasn't on the surface, breaking through with sunshine.  The most poignant example is when Jesus' dear friend, Lazarus, died.

Jesus wept.
John 11:3

The Greek word for "wept" is dakruo.  It means to shed quiet, actual tears or to weep tears silently.  Jesus stood there, in front of the tomb, and rivers of water streamed down his face as he mourned from deep within himself.  Although others were around, this was a moment that Jesus had personal, deep grieving.

Can we say that at moments like this, joy is gone?  No, we can say that happiness is gone, that these are seasons where it is time to weep.  But joy is a fruit of the Spirit and like a seed buried deep in the soil, when it is watered and fed, it will grow.

Just as there are times of sorrow and deep emotion in life, there are times of meaninglessness as well.  

I've been in a time of longing for meaning in my job.  I've come home from work so many days and shook my head and felt depleted at the lack of meaning to one single person in what I spent my day doing.  Solomon, a man to whom God gave every physical thing imaginable, uses the word meaningless 38 times in Ecclesiastes.  Yet he didn't let his viewpoint stay stuck in the perspective of meaninglessness.  Here are a few verses showing how Solomon constantly was resolving his feelings of meaninglessness.

The I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, 
and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot.
Ecclesiastes 5:18

So I commend the enjoyment of life because nothing is better for a man under the sun then to eat and drink and be glad.
Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 8:15

Really?  Nothing is better than to eat, drink and be glad?  Nothing?  Not love?  Not obedience?  Not righteous living?  Not telling others about Jesus?  This makes me think of John 10:10 - "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full."  Ladies, God is serious that He wants us to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and that includes joy.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

These fruits are evidence of the Holy Spirit's active presence in our lives.

Joy and peace walk hand in hand.  One cannot be separated from the other.  Like the Russian women I used to see walking down the street.  Arms linked together they huddled close.  Not distracted by the surrounding noise, they spoke a quiet conversation not meant for the world around them.  This is how joy and peace are linked together.  Sometimes the noise of life drowns one out.  But they are still there supporting you amidst the pain and sorrow and suffering.  They gently push in, providing a little smile here and a laugh there.

As life is a journey through happiness and sadness, different situations and different places, if we have Jesus on that journey then joy can also be a companion.




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