Many years ago, when I was first married, I had an experience that was both devastatingly sad and eternally impactful in helping me to always have in my mind, “This is not the end. This is not my final home. I need to live for the kingdom to come.”
I hope you will give yourself time to really ponder the podcast today and to breathe in the beauty of this story. We only have this life, today, to choose to celebrate the reality of God in the presence of others and we never know when this opportunity will be over. Let me know your thoughts after you listen.
How To Live Through Deep Sadness and Move to Mature Joy
One of the biggest puzzles for me has been understanding how to deal with suffering and yet have joy at the same time. This is a big subject and hardly one I can deal with comprehensively in one small chapter, but I do want to at least touch on this important question.
Being born with a strong sense of justice has made it difficult for me to understand why so much suffering happens to good people at the hands of bad people. Yet in reading Scripture and pondering life, I have realized that in order for me to have joy and hold God's hand in this dance of life, I have to mount up over these questions. The seeming inconsistencies of unanswered prayer, sickness, broken relationships, sin that corrupts and destroys, and all those consequences of life that tear our hearts apart are not to be dealt with in this world. If I am to dance, I do so by holding God's hand in faith, celebrating that he will, in time, judge the world and all its peoples and issues and bring justice for his children.
So as I began to examine joy in this context, I was not seeking to deal with the "why" of difficulty. That was a given. Instead I was seeking out the reality of how to live with joy in the midst of the sadness and death.
In Hebrews this very issue is the centerpiece. Consider these verses from Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The writer of Hebrews compared our lives to a race of endurance, a race in which joy is connected to what lies ahead, not to what is here right now. Just before these verses, in chapter 11, he called us to remember all of those who have gone before us who ran their race and finished well. The author listed the "Hall of Faith" and recounted the stories in Scripture of people who lived lives of faith and succeeded in pleasing God—the heroes of the faith. They are the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. His admonition was for us to lay aside every encumbrance and sin, which so easily entangles us, in order to run this race of life with endurance.
Next he admonished us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus is our target— the focal point of our lives and the finishing line of our faith. In other words, if we are to run well, we need to look at what Jesus did, follow his example, and run with his presence every step so that he can perfect our faith. Jesus endured the suffering of the cross because his eyes were on the "joy set before Him." I believe that the "joy set before Him" was the ultimate redemption of mankind through his sacrifice for us on the cross. He also took joy in knowing that he would soon be back with his Father, ruling and honored in the heavenlies as the Prince of peace, when he would once again "sit down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Jesus, once again our model for joy, endured the suffering because he knew that redemption and reward were coming. This must be the motivation of our lives if we are to experience internal joy in the midst of suffering: the certainty that we will be rewarded and justified in heaven because of our faith in his promise to make a place for us, the confidence that one day we will be in a place where there are no more tears. We can fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who is cheering us on, praying for us, waiting to greet us at the finish line of life.
I love the passage in Revelation that describes a part of the reality of heaven for us: "And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' And He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true'" (Revelation 21:4-5).
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