“But the Fruit of the Spirit is…joy” Galatians 5:22
This week, I am looking at Joy. It has been an interesting week. It has not been the headlines in my country alone that have been full of violence, hate, anger, and despair. No, the violence that has and is taking place in my own country is taking place around the world. In the midst of all that is going on, how can I talk about Joy? Is it cruel to even mention Joy as a Fruit of the Spirit when there is so much suffering? I must talk about Joy because it is part of our inheritance in Jesus Christ and is not affected by the evils of this world. It would be cruel of me if I presented Joy in the Spirit as something we believers could have if we were just better Christians and if I suggested that, since we suffer, we must be failing God in some way. That is not true. That is not in the scripture. That is not what I find in the heart of the God who loves me. Our Joy is His Joy and it is the gift freely given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
There is a fallacy regarding the Christian life and I don’t have to look very far to see it perpetuated. This fallacy is that somehow, we who are partakers of this New Covenant Life in Jesus Christ, have the best of everything, are never touched by sorrow or disease, and lack nothing. If we do not have the best, experience loss or sickness, and have any sort of need, we have failed in some way to lay hold of our inheritance. I do not find a scriptural basis for this without doing some serious carving up of the New Testament. In order to believe this, I have to hold very tightly to a few select scriptures and utterly ignore everything else. When I look at scripture as a whole, I find the opposite is true. Jesus Himself tells me, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The truth of this is carried into the Acts of the Apostles where the souls of the disciples are strengthened by the words, “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
The word translated “tribulation” is the Greek word thlipsis (G2347) and has the definition of pressure, affliction, anguish, burden, persecution, tribulation, trouble. Thlipsis comes from thlibo (G2346) which means to crowd, afflict, narrow, throng. Here I see a picture of being surrounded by so many problems and difficulties, and sufferings, there isn’t room to move or even breathe. I have a story that might help give you a picture of this, if you’ll bear with me.
I have always been a lousy athlete especially when it came to team sports. Basketball in particular was my nemesis. I can’t count how many times I would be practicing dribbling the ball, the ball would hit the top of my foot, and go shooting off like an arrow. I spent most of my time chasing the ball and hurting myself than I ever did actually playing basketball. However, the town I lived in was small and everyone had to have a chance to play. Now, there was another girl who was a fabulous athlete. No matter what sport-team or otherwise-she took part in, she excelled. I am simplifying a bit but the odds of my scoring any points, no matter how often I “kept my eye on the ball” and “followed through” were astronomical. And so, my one job, if I could manage it, was to get the ball to this girl. There came a time during a game when I’d managed to retrieve the ball on the rebound. I couldn’t do much with it and the other team was coming for me. I found myself on my knees, curled around the ball, staring at the feet of the members of the other team while they all surrounded me. I was completely hedged in. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t get up. I called this girl’s name and, all of the sudden, saw a pair of hands I recognized. I got the ball to her and every member of that team lost interest in me.
I do not mean to trivialize the horrors that beset us in this life. I tell this story because this is what I picture when life does this to me. There are times when I am on my knees, curled around myself to protect myself, so beset by tribulations I can’t see anything else. But I am of good cheer because there is a name I can call on and He is always there. He lifts me in His hands and I can trust Him to work all things together for good because I love Him and I know I am called according to His purpose. (Romans 8: 28, paraphrased) When I deliberately picture myself in His hands, when I focus all my attention on Him, my sorrow is swallowed up in Joy.
How can I say this? Life is not a basketball game. There is terrible suffering and there is death. How can I say death is good? I do not. Death is an enemy. I do not know how God is going to take all the horrible things humans have done to each other since Cain slew Abel, all the sicknesses and diseases we have suffered, and work them for good. I do not have a satisfactory answer on why God continues to allow such sufferings other than the one I find where, while speaking of humankind, the Writer of the Hebrews says, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him, But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus…” (Hebrews 2: 8-9)
I see Jesus. I see the One despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, the One who bore my griefs, carried my sorrows, was wounded for my transgressions, bruised for my iniquities, the One by whose stripes I am healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5, paraphrased). I count myself among the blessed mourners, blessed not because I mourn but because I am comforted. My comfort comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in me, the Comforter Himself. I am not ashamed because I do not always feel joy. My heart breaks, I grieve, I get tired of living a life in pain: all of this is real and I feel it. But, I look through all of that to Jesus in whom I live, and move, and have my being. My life is hid in His. I am aware of Him always with me, undergirding me, infusing His strength in me. It is His Joy that is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and my feelings eventually align with this truth. It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me and I rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. (1 Peter 1:8)
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?
-Robert Wadsworth Lowry, 1868
All scriptures quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982
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