READ: 2 Samuel 10-12, Psalm 94, Matthew 5, 1 Thessalonians 1
How sweet it is to suffer and die. The crucified life has so much joy. If only we could trust Jesus, take Him at His word and embrace dying daily, we would be so enriched. We find it so hard to believe that joy and sorrow are companions.
Incredible emotional energy is summoned just to face the thought of opposition or to overcome the rejection of man. We strive to avoid conflict and affliction, blind to the reality that often the word is “received IN much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6, emphasis added). We are more familiar with the sobriety of the Spirit than we are His joy, and we force a dichotomy where it should not be: pain and joy, sorrow and joy, difficulty and joy, hardship and joy, poverty and joy, suffering and joy, sickness and joy, death and joy. Jesus told us “Blessed are those who are persecuted…reviled….maligned…REJOICE and BE EXCEEDINGLY GLAD…” (Matt. 5:12, emphasis added).
We tell ourselves joy comes despite affliction. Jesus tells us joy comes because of affliction. We tell ourselves joy helps us overcome rejection. Jesus tells us rejection is a joy. We tell ourselves there is joy on the other side of persecution. Jesus tells us joy swells in trial. We segregate joy and pain; Jesus unites them and we discover “in the multitudes of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19). Some depths of joy are only discovered in the valley of shadows. Some delights are only magnified when we live in anxious times or places.
It is a mistake to pity those who surrender all they know and the securities they enjoy for the insecurities and instabilities of pioneer mission. An appropriate response when friends and family leave home to move (with their vulnerable children) to Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, or Yemen is godly jealousy. There are joyous intimacies available only to those who forsake all for Jesus. Do not mourn for those imprisoned – envy them, for Jesus will flood them with exceptional joy in His presence. Do not anguish over those who are sick or widowed – there is a unique intimacy with Jesus only gained by losing. We do not cavalierly pray trouble on our friends, but neither should we mindlessly pray them out of trial– their suffering may be divinely mandated that they are graced with exceeding joy.
Further steps into the knowledge of God whereby Jesus becomes more real to the soul are joyous steps. Some of them are through green valleys and soft grass. Some are through rocky terrain and over thorny ground. Whatever steps bring us closer to Jesus are joyful ones.