Joy in facing difficulties, sorrow, and even death

Joy in facing difficulties, sorrow, and even death September 18, 2012

Yesterday we spoke about depression and I finished by saying that when you’re depressed it is still possible to rejoice. There are two senses in which this is the case. Firstly, God does offer us a stream of joy inside our heart that somehow means that you can be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

The other way in which Christian can always rejoice is by choice. Rejocing is a verb. It is something we can do even when we don’t feel like it. This is not the same thing as falsely claiming to be happy when you’re not (something that is very common in some church circles). This is not unreality. It is rather, even in the midst of suffering to have faith that the following verse is true:

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

(Psalm 30:5)

In verses 9 and 10 of Psalm 16, the Psalmist takes an interesting turn: ‘…my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption’.

What he is talking about there is joy facing difficulties. Our whole flesh can be secure because we have a hope. Here, the challenge is the greatest challenge of all in terms of death, but it is also true of all the difficulties that you and I face, whether it is a difficulty at work, a difficulty at home, your relationships, whether you are running into financial problems, whether it is that you are sick, or you have a dream that you are beginning to wonder will ever be fulfilled, God is able to deal with all of our challenges. He is also able to give us joy in the midst of them.

I love what Habakkuk 3 says: ‘Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines…’ Though my bank account is empty… (it doesn’t say that, but it could have). ‘Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will take joy in the God of my salvation.’ It has often been said that that kind of attitude takes a miracle to happen, a miracle of grace, when God puts that joy inside you that says I will rejoice even when everything around me seems like falling apart.

Even when He was facing death, itself, Jesus knew joy. It says of Jesus that: ‘for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross’. The glorious thing is that because Jesus did that, His body – and the New Testament makes it clear that when it talks here in Psalm 16 about the holy one not seeing corruption, it is talking about Jesus – did not see corruption. Because Jesus’ body rose again, because Jesus was not left in the tomb, what is true of Jesus can also be true of us. Brothers and sisters, we have a hope that goes beyond the grave. We have a hope that one day these old bodies of ours will rise again and we will see Him face-to-face, and loved ones that have departed we will meet again, and we will all meet around that Throne. What a glorious time of rejoicing that will be. And of course it is only then that we will enjoy in full what we now enjoy in part: the pleasures that surround his throne.

No wonder Paul says (and I am slightly paraphrasing the modern English translations but as I posted before I think it is very accurate to say it this way): ‘Do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope.’ We grieve. We just do not do it in the same way as those who have no hope because we have a hope. The same Paul that told us to rejoice always also said that if his friend had died he would have had sorrow upon sorrow. So it is possible to spend time grieving as a Christian, and we have had that experience in our family recently with a loss that we have had in the last year. It has not been an easy loss and yet I think we know the experience that Paul also talks about here when he says in another place that we can be sorrowful yet also always rejoicing.

There is a joy in difficulty, a joy in sorrow that is available for us. It leads to complexity in our emotional state at times so that as Paul puts it,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-18 ESV)

When facing difficulties the Christian can rejoice in future hope and in our current place of refuge. When the world seems against you hide in God and join the psalmist as he says
“In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy!” (Ps 63:7)

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