Thank you for being patient during my extended, unannounced absence here. I won’t get into a lot of specifics, I’ll just say: it’s been a little crazy, and even the hour or two it takes to create one of these has been precious time that had to be directed elsewhere. I am very grateful to those of you who have been praying for my wife and I as we’ve passed through a rather trying time.
And it’s actually what led me to pick this sermon, as the concept of joy, and more specifically the source of joy and its object, has really been on my mind lately. When things are frustrating beyond reason, when it looks like darkness is all around or when things are simply out of your hands completely…what does it mean to obey a command like “Rejoice in the Lord always?”
I wanted to take a look at the whole passage:
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”–John 16:16-24
And there’s another passage that came to mind as well:
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.–Luke 12:22-34
What I see is that we have two sides of the same coin: Do rejoice in God, do not fear. And I look at my life, I look at my thought process and the way I look at the way my heart quakes before uncertainty, or how quickly I can get angry when my best-laid plans are upset…and I find myself having to continually go to God and confess my great deficiency in this area. I want to be able to lead my wife in such a way that demonstrates my complete trust in His providence. I am a guy who can’t do anything except wake up in the morning, praise God for new grace, and go forward to see what the day holds.
And so we have the dual command: rejoice, and do not fear. Praise God in all circumstances and times, because God is king of all; because God is the Author of our lives and faith; and because He has extended us mercy and grace far beyond our greatest understandings. Do not fear, because God ordains all things, even the bad things, for the sake of His glory and our good; because when we look to God in even our most sorrowful and agonizing times He uses those to create in us a lasting and life-giving joy; and because in the eternity to come when we see Jesus and know Him fully, the darkest hours will not compare to the true fullness of that joy.
But it still is not unusual for us to look at our own troubles, our own fears, and feel like we are different. “My circumstance is unique. You may be able to just cast your fears away like nothing, but you can’t understand what it’s like for me.” And you know, that is true in a sense, at least halfway: I can’t understand what your life is like, because it’s not my life. I only have my own existence and my own testimony.
But to say that you are somehow so troubled and beyond help that you should cling to your troubles, that you should not obey this command with all urgency, is to be disobedient. And that’s what I have to preach to myself: if you do not loosen your hands, give up this idol, this fear, this control over your life, what you’re saying is that God is not truly God. You’re really God, and you know best. I think we all know exactly how that will end.
So Mr. Spurgeon’s cry from Scripture is one that I utter often, and that I think is very appropriate for every believer to have at hand: “I believe, help my unbelief!” I find myself even now, crying out to God those words. I worry about what is to come, I buck against the fact that I cannot take situations in my hands and fix them to perfection and I have to trust God. So I ask God to forgive my unbelief and fear, and I rejoice in the fact that in Christ I have a great high priest who both can sympathize perfectly with me, as well as has perfectly and completely covered my sin. I want to rest in the throne room of God as a man who is made perfect by the completed work of Jesus, and I want to lead my wife lovingly by the hand behind me to joy. I want to be a man that raises whatever children God blesses us with to become lovers of God, to see their own hearts filled with the overflowing joy of the Spirit ministering to them. And I can rejoice in the fact that God hears my prayers, and that His perfect wisdom and mercy will be administered in exactly the right way.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.–Romans 8:28
Check out the debate between Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother Joe Ventalicion from Iglesia ni Christo. INC is an Arian cult that began in the Philippines, and they bear some resemblance to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in certain areas–namely, that Jesus is a created being rather than God, and denial of the Trinitarian nature of God.