Paul commands us to rejoice. Echoing the ancient Psalmist, he rehearses the call to “Rejoice in the Lord.” How can joy be commanded?
After several days at the beach, my siblings and I were growing weary with play. We started complaining, arguing, and expressing general discontent. Suddenly my dad’s voice boomed into the mix, “I paid good money for this trip and you had better enjoy it!”
Half fearful of the consequences of not enjoying the vacation, we quit complaining and stiffly tried to enjoy. Somehow joy under command seems odd, if not impossible. It seems inauthentic.
“Hey folks, I’m suffering here. The last thing I need is someone telling me that I am not happy enough. Didn’t the writer of Proverbs warn us about singing songs to a heavy heart?”
In my own life, I’ve noticed that complaint can sometimes be a habit rather than a state of mind. “How did you day go?” “Pretty good. Of course, I had to sit in traffic for 30 minutes!” Sometimes I’ve already unloaded a crateful of complaints without even thinking about it.
Then again, real suffering, serious life/death suffering can drive us to desperation. Both physical and mental suffering can weary the soul and even make us feel helpless under the weight. There have been days when the sun shone brightly but the clouds of my soul cast me in a thick and choking darkness.
In the late 90s, I was surprised by hopelessness. I entered a season of smothering, of struggle to live through each day, of waking nightmares that invaded every waking thought. The joy of the Lord that Paul exhorts hid beneath a flood of torments.
Rediscovering joy did not come in five easy steps, but it did come. The joy returned as a gift of God in midst of stark barrenness. The joy of the Lord came in the friendship and encouragement of my wife. The joy of the Lord came in remembering the goodness of God in the land of the living. The joy of the Lord came in the rehearsing of my life in light of His grace and love and mercy.
I beheld afresh the Savior who endured the cross, despising its shame, for the joy set before Him. In the greatest event of human suffering, Jesus moved toward joy. In the cross, I beheld a love unrestrained, unexplainable joy. I beheld the love of God in the land of darkness. I beheld the grace of God in the face of Christ as He entered completely into the broken world, broken heart, and broken life of humanity.
Day after day, week after week, I am continually learning the story of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. Again and again the Lord meets me in the desperate weakness of my own prayers, in the gentle embrace of my wife, in the faithful love of God’s people.
There are times when suffering seems so very real and joy seems so very illusive: God is faithful. When heaven and earth are thick, unyielding obstacles to peace and joy: He is near. May we have eyes to see and a heart that learns to trust that His love can and will shine through the thick, obtuse world, reminding me, reminding us that He is near. He is near. And that is cause for joy.
image used by permission. courtesy of Senor Codo via Creative Commons.