Jesus felt joy. He received it from the Holy Spirit and praised God with it. In John 15, Jesus entreats us to remain in his love, follow his commands and receive his joy in ourselves that by doing these things, our joy may be complete.
He wants us to have joy, but how can we when this life is filled with evil and sin? Let’s look to our Lord for an answer.
Hebrews 12:2 Jesus…for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus paid that awful price–chose to go through agonizing pain–allowed himself to be a willing victim of Satan’s schemes by keeping the future joy he would experience when he broke the hold of death and hell over mankind in his sights. In other words, he looked past his present pain to the future joy, to the hope he would bring to his people. Joy is a powerful motivator.
Sometimes as we look back, we want to excavate the unsightly areas of our path–just yank those stones out and fling them away where we don’t have to look at them or think about them anymore.
But all that does is create a hole in our path. It doesn’t smooth the way, or make it more beautiful–it just makes it empty. It would also change who we are. Our past makes us what we are today. It doesn’t have to define us, but it definitely influences us. God uses the poor decisions and the detours brought about by rebelliousness and stubborn pride to shape and mold us into the people he envisions us becoming. Into people he can use to reach others and into people who choose to love him and have a relationship with him.
Romans 8:28 reminds us that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I was called at a young age (13) to choose God. But my later decisions didn’t always reflect that calling. After college, my path drifted farther and farther away from Jesus. It wasn’t that I stopped believing, just that I stopped worshiping and relating. It was as though I had moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood and never wrote or called, so our relationship became thin and nearly forgotten. At least on my end. God never forgot me. I realized as I look back on those ugly stones, that Jesus never turned his back on me. He continued to keep me safe, continued to protect me, even when I paid him no heed.
Sometimes we want to put as many stones as possible between the ugly ones and our current place–so we feverishly choose and lay stones–often picking out the smaller ones so we can lay them faster in an effort to outrun the things we’d like to forget.
This doesn’t really work. In all our fervent labor we are so caught up on the number of stones we lay, we forget to survey the route. In this time of desperate activity born of a desire for distance, we may end up so far off the original path as to be doubling back on the very spot we wanted to forget.
I did that–many times. I would run-as fast and as far as I could–and end up right where I started. Never once did I outrun Jesus, though. He was always within reach, even though I didn’t notice.
After college, I worked on the racetrack. I was a jockey for two years. I engaged in many unhealthy activities and my friends weren’t always the most upstanding. One evening I was riding back to my room with a female friend in her truck. We pulled into the parking lot only to find a carload of inebriated men who thought she’d done them wrong. They busted the window of the driver’s side of the truck and tried to drag her out of it. When I got out, they noticed me and began to come for me. My friend’s Rottweiler dog, grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me away across the parking lot. He wasn’t particularly friendly toward me and he didn’t offer to rescue her. I believe this was God protecting me through this dog.
Sometimes we find a stone we like so much that we just want to linger on it–rest a while. No need to find the next stone. No need to rush forward, just enjoy the view from where we are.
A period of inactivity can be okay for a time, but too much complacency often leads to our own destruction. Our path isn’t complete until our death. If we stop before we’ve reached our destination, we’ve left opportunities unexplored and possibilities undiscovered. We haven’t tapped into our full potential or realized our ultimate purpose. God never uses us up, or tosses us aside.
Philippians 1:6 NIV
Paul says, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
We must never think our work is done. It may change, but he can use us in every circumstance if we are open to the possibilities and looking for the opportunities. Often they come when we least expect them.
So what can we do to ensure we don’t get caught in the traps life sets for us? Join me next week for my answer.