Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 5
Finding Joy in the Hard Places
Few of us would expect to find joy while locked in a prison cell. Especially if we were there for being obedient to God and awaiting a possible death sentence. Paul’s situation (as he puts it “the things that have happened to me”) give a lot of credibility to his words. As he writes about how he found joy in the hard places, maybe it will give us encouragement as well in “the things that have happened to us!”
FINDING JOY IN SPITE OF TOUGH CIRCUMSTANCES
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)
It isn’t a stretch for us to see that our culture (and our world) has entered into one of the most difficult seasons most of us have ever experienced. And I am not just referring here to our movements being restricted or our isolation from others or Disneyworld closing. People are frightened. They are confused. They are lost and if they do not know the Lord, they have nowhere to look for help.
If you are reading this book as a believer, then you can say with Paul, that in spite of our circumstances:
- We know God allows nothing to happen to us without reason. Paul looked for Divine purpose in everything that had happened to him.
- We know that things happen TO US and IN US so God can make things happen THROUGH US. What was Paul’s optimism? That “the whole imperial guard has heard the Gospel.” Paul did not want to be in prison, even as you do not want to be stuck in the prison of your tough circumstances. But he saw, even though the inconvenience and difficulty, that God was using him to share Jesus with those whose job it was to be tethered to him by a chain. They learned that this Jewish prisoner they were guarding was really the free one, and they were the prisoner, and they knew he was imprisoned for the Gospel and was not a criminal.
You may not be literally “chained” to a difficult co-worker or an unsympathetic supervisor, but certainly God has placed them in our lives and us in theirs for a reason bigger than the moment. How do we leverage these relationships, even in tough circumstances, for the Kingdom of God? That’s how Paul coped. And that’s how the joy came!
- We know that as much as this season we are in feels like a downhill bobsled ride with no brakes, God is in control even of times like these. This is the time for us to answer the hard questions. “Where does my confidence really lie?” “What am I trusting in for my resources and provision?” “Who am I really looking to as my strength?”
We find joy when we realize that our tough circumstances have a purpose, that God isn’t going to waste a moment of what we’re going through, that HE is in control of everything happening to us right now and we need to begin asking this question: What is God wanting to do THROUGH ME in this time as we wait out the coronavirus, or a cancer diagnosis, or a divorce proceeding as things are happening around us and TO us that we cannot control?
WE CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF DIFFICULT PEOPLE
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaims Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18)
This is also a tough one. All of us have experienced a person, or multiple people, who seem to have made it their mission to make life harder for you. Maybe it is an unsympathetic boss at work, or an annoying co-worker, or someone who says unkind and untrue things about you online, or an irritating neighbor. We will all encounter difficult people in life.
John Ortberg has a book he entitled, “Everybody’s Normal ‘til You Get to Know Them.” Everybody’s got a little dysfunction in them; well… some have a little more than others… and it’s tough if the difficult person in your life is your mate, or a parent, or even a child.
So, I’m not going to give you three simple steps in how to pray that person out of your life… they may be there to stay, and again, they are there for a reason. You need to stay open to the reason why God placed them in your life. Paul was continually hounded by people whose mission in life was to frustrate his. Let’s be honest. Those kinds of people can suck the joy right out of you, can’t they?
In some settings, Paul had to deal with Jewish teachers who were jealous of his success, or angry at his teaching that disagreed with theirs. Some thought they were doing God a favor by persecuting Paul, and some were sincere in their belief. Clearly, they were enemies of the Gospel.
But I think it was a lot tougher on Paul to deal with those who claimed to be on his side. I heard about a college football player who was permanently injured in a game when he was tackled by his own teammate. You can brace yourself from a hit by the opposing team. But when it’s coming at your blindside, from a person wearing your uniform, you cannot get prepared for that.
Paul was being tackled by those who claimed to be on “Team Jesus.” But he chose joy in spite of them. Let me offer a paraphrase of what he said:
“So, what if some preach Christ with wrong motives? Furthermore, some may be overly impressed with themselves. Who cares? What really matters is this: Christ is being proclaimed… and that thought alone intensifies my joy! All the other stuff, I leave to God. “
Now Paul never allowed the message of the Gospel to be compromised by those individuals. He said in Galatians,
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)
God is able to accomplish His purposes even through people we may see as difficult. And even though we may not rejoice in that troubling person, we can find joy knowing that the Gospel can go forward in spite of them!
FINDING JOY IN SPITE OF UNCERTAIN OUTCOMES
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18-21)
Paul truly did not know how the situation he was in was going to turn out. There were no lawyers representing criminals in jail cells in Rome. Paul could be set free… or he could face the executioner’s axe.
I think by far one of the most frustrating things for many of us in dealing with this virus crisis is the uncertainty of it all. How long are we going to have to wait? Will someone I know will be infected? Will I? What about my job? My business? My children? My future? The economy?
And no one can tell us the outcome. All the entities we have come to depend on in times like this: government; economics; health care… nobody seems to know what to do.
So clearly the government cannot save us; our money can’t save us; the medical community is overwhelmed. But it leaves a big question that needs to be answered: What are you really trusting in?
Paul could say, “For me, to live is Christ… and to die is gain.” In essence he was saying, “If the worst-case scenario, physically, happens to me it won’t be a loss, but a gain.” That’s confidence, folks. That’s trusting Jesus above everything else. He was saying, “Don’t cry at my funeral. I haven’t lost… I’ve gained everything!”
If I live on physically, I live for Christ. If I die, I go to live with Christ. Either way, you win. Either way, there is joy.
So where is your confidence and ‘earnest expectation’ today?
For me to live is… ____________? And to die is… ____________?
Will you think about that for a moment with me? How would you fill in those blanks? For me to live is… money? Fame? A relationship on earth? Success in business? And if that is how you would honestly fill in the blank, then how would you fill in the second? “To die is __________?
If we have to add the word “loss” then we are living for something less than what God’s best is for us. This is a hard thing to think about, since for many of us a person’s name is going to go into that blank.
But as many know, if you are living for a person, you can also lose that person and with them, your purpose and primary reason for living.
There was a time that I would have put my wife’s name in the first blank. We had to come to a point in our relationship where we affirmed what we had said at the beginning: “I must always say I love you but not as much as I love Jesus.”
If we cannot say that, then the relationship has become an idol that stands in the way of your total commitment to Jesus Christ. When you can truly say, with Paul that “for me to live is Christ,” it gives depth of true love to every other relationship in life. If a person is coming first in your life: spouse, child, grandchild, or friend… you are loving something that can be taken away from you by illness, or death, or divorce, or by a child leaving home.
If nothing else, this coronavirus gives us opportunity to truly ask ourselves some hard questions. Where does your trust lie this morning? Is it in something that death can take from you? Or do you know a relationship with Jesus that makes life worth living NOW, and death no longer something to fear, but something that will bring gain?
It’s time to think hard about these questions. Until we have this settled, something like the threat of this virus will continue to terrorize us and rob us of joy.
- We can choose joy in our difficult circumstances if we know Christ.
- We can choose joy in spite of difficult people if the Gospel is being proclaimed.
- We can choose joy in spite of uncertain outcomes in life is Christ is our life, and our victory. Even death is gain!