I don’t know how other Christians feel, but me, I get tired of living in a world that is so broken. When Jesus said, the poor you’ll always have with you, He wasn’t kidding.
The poor, the brokenhearted, the insecure, the lonely, the abused, the misused, the victim, the addict, the spiritually poor, the deluded. And then there are the wicked—the greedy, the covetous, the murderous, the takers, the users, the immoral, the bullies.
Honestly, it gets depressing. The news tells us all about the people who have been displace or injured or killed by the latest storm/earthquake/fire/flood/war/terrorist attack. It tells us about the spread of diseases we don’t know how to cure, about people who have been in horrific accidents, about people robbing or raping or brutalizing others.
The news is not fun!
And the longer I live, the more I realize I’m going to hear bad news from my friends and family too. Loved ones die or get sick or lose their jobs or face disappointment.
Without a doubt, life is also filled with many, many joys, but in the end, after the Super Bowl parade, comes free agency and the loss of well-loved teammates. In other words, our joys are temporary.
Except for one. The joy of the LORD is not fleeting. Instead, it is everlasting because its source is not circumstances or stuff or even people or my well-being. The joy of the LORD is based on the LORD, the King of Heaven, whose works are true and whose ways are just.
Because of who He is, we can have joy here and now. We can have joy because God is with us and will not leave us or forsake us. We can have joy because He is faithful to walk with us through the waters, through the fire, through the valley of the shadow of death.
We can also have joy because we don’t carry the weight of sin and guilt. We don’t have to look over our shoulders to see if we’re about to be caught in the midst of our sin. God’s Holy Spirit is in us and He will guide us and convict us and teach us. Further, God has forgiven us. That’s not a future thing for Christians: If we sin we have to come groveling back to Him and beg Him to let us return to the banquet table. NO! We are in right standing with God because of what Jesus did at the cross, and our sin doesn’t change that fact.
Granted, sin can disrupt our joy because it disrupts our fellowship with God. But that’s the key: the friendship we have with God is the source of joy. When we pray about the things that trouble us, God doesn’t snap His fingers (generally) and change the circumstances. But He does take us by the hand and tell us He’ll go with us wherever those troubles take us. We aren’t alone and we can trust Him to turn ashes into joy.
Job went through horrific loss, but God gave him a glimpse of Himself, then restored what he’d lost. Ruth suffered the loss of her husband, then gave up her homeland and her native culture, and God replaced her loss with a husband and a son in the Messianic line. Abraham “lost” his son Isaac who he’d waited for, for decades, only to have him restored and become the beginning of nations. Peter was a miserable failure, unable to stand up to the jeering crowd, but instead denying his Lord and Savior. Yet, the risen Christ restored him to his place as one tasked with feeding God’s sheep and proclaiming the truth about Jesus as Messiah. I could go on and one.
The point is simple: our circumstances don’t have to dictate our level of joy. God has given us His forgiveness. God is giving us His presence. And God will give us our future inheritance—the joy from the ashes. We have the hope of heaven and an eternity with God. That’s the greatest source of joy a person could ever want.
But there is a catch. It’s easy to take our eye off the ball. Ask any athlete. When you are anticipating what comes next or when you’re evaluating what you need to change, it’s easy to be distracted by past mistakes or at expected successes. Either one can cause you to drop the ball that’s right in front of you.
We need to keep our eye on the prize which is Jesus Christ Himself. He will not disappoint. He will not fail us. He will not forsake us.
I found a very, very cool verse in Zephaniah (the minor prophets are filled with little unexpected gems) which lets us know more about God:
The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (3:17)
A victorious warrior! How cool is that! But how amazing that He rejoices over us, that His emotional response to us is love and joy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it hard to be in the presence of joyful people without some of their joy infecting me. How much more so God, who lives in my heart and who exults over me with joy.
Can I turn my back on Him and put on my grumpy face and say, Leave me alone! Well, apparently so, because Scripture tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit and not to quench the Holy Spirit. So when we take our eye off the prize, when we stop looking into the face of Jesus, we can fall into the tumult of our circumstances. Ah, dear Peter also gave us a great illustration of that when he bravely stepped out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus. But he took his eyes off the prize and started to sink. It’s easy to do, what with the wind and the waves swamping the boat. But it’s certainly not inevitable. We can keep our eyes on the prize instead.