This type of scripture makes me uncomfortable. The assurance of Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”; doing little to calm my feelings of unease. Upon further reflection however, I find that the problem – as it usually does – lies solely within me. Because quite frankly, coming to terms with the fact that my faith isn’t necessarily designed to bring me earthly joy but eternal security is difficult for me. I expect more than that, I want to be happy all the time; all my difficulties – if any should inadvertently come my way at all – smoothed over, taken away, miraculously resolved.
The solution to the problem is understanding the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness denoting an absence of difficulty, joy being possible in the midst of it. (As in 2 Corinthians 8:2) James going so far as to admonish us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (Which) must finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4The sad fact being that much of the time I prefer immaturity to completeness, especially if it comes at significant cost; as it did for Christ, “…who for the joy set before Him (Of a future reunion with God through the completion of His will) endured the cross, scorning its shame… Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2,3
The inescapable fact being, “Each heart knows its own bitterness,…” Prob. 14:10 Yet we all persist in trying to find ways to avoid heartache and hardship as much as possible. But could there be a purpose to hardship – even sorrow? Paul seemed to think so, explaining how “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow (self-indulgent non-productive self-pity) brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 Going so far as to assert that, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil. 3:10,11Most of us desperately wanting to know the power of the resurrection , but a fellowship of suffering? Not so much.
Of immense help to me in understanding this issue of joy in the midst of uncertainty, fear and sorrow is Psalm 34, which starts out by declaring, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” If for no other reason than because, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. “ Psalm 118:24 This sentiment echoed by Paul in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; Rejoice!” And then more specifically instructing us to, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Which is done at least in part by, “Be(ing) joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:11,12
The Psalmist then goes on to acknowledge the trying times that may very well come into every life, even as he offers assurance that, “(As) I sought the Lord, …he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Explaining how, “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. (For) The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:4-7 Again echoed in the New Testament by Christ where he calls us to, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 But doesn’t scripture such as Psalm 37:25 express the idea that good comes to those who do good, bad to those who are bad; concluding with “…I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.”? Which sounds nice, but is it realistic? And we are indeed instructed to, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:12, most of us having a certain expectation that as we do good things to others, they will respond in kind. But there is no promise of such. We’ve all heard of good people, Christian people, who’ve been harassed, deprived, battered and even killed because of who they were – or merely because bad things happen to good people – for no particular reason. Maybe what we need do is better define forsaken, which according to Webster’s Dictionary means abandoned. The question then being, can – or will – we ever be afflicted with undesirable circumstances and yet not be abandoned? The answer being critical to much of our lives and replied to in scripture with a firm YES!
The Hebrew writer expanding on this theme by advising, “Keep your lives free from the love of money (or the pursuit of happiness through things) and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we may say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:4-6 Paul reinforcing this thought by asking, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or nakedness or danger or sword…? (Which we will all have to face in some form or fashion throughout our lives, scripture assuring us of such in 2 Timothy 3:12; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 1:4 & Matthew 6:34) His answer being an emphatic NO! Because “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” As nothing in all creation has the power to separate us from God’s love expressed in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:35-39) Jesus pointedly instructing us to, “…not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” With the assurance that, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-3The dilemma we still face in the here-and-now is whether he gives us all we want or actually need, on command, or does he bless us according to his purpose and time-frame.
The answer, at least in part, found in John 14:27. Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for the day when he will no longer be with them, at least in the flesh; promising them a sense of peace, not as the world defines it – as a lack of any and all trouble – but peace in the midst of hardship. And he is offering this peace even as he foresees what he is about to experience on the cross, the knowledge of which brought him agonizing dis-ease – for a time – in the garden. The key for him and us being his final resolve to trust God and His way of doing things, enabling him to not only submit to God’s will but to embrace it; the questions of life and death, usually our most compelling prayer issues, personally covered by God in his assurance of mercy and grace. Jesus declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never (really) die.” John 1:25,26 Again, God’s definition of death evidently different than our own; as we’ve all seen people – Christian people – die. (See Hebrews 9:27) But what is death but a portal to be passed through to the other side. Where, “(God) will wipe away every tear… (Where) there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,…” Revelation 21:4 Heaven being the place we experience the ultimate instance of healing, the fullest realization of life. Allowing us to, “…approach the throne of grace (and our lives in general) with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
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