October 7, 2009

Lead with joy

My back ached with spasms from repetitive activity. I’d overdone it and was paying the price. But I learned something during that experience more than thirty years ago. I learned that pain and joy are not mutually exclusive.

The pain was severe, intense enough to put me in bed. Any movement made things worse. I stayed still. I was a fairly new Christian and began praying and thinking about God and all that He had done for me. The strangest thing happened; my heart was filled with joy. The pain didn’t go away, but the joy became increasingly intense and my pain seemed like nothing in comparison. This was an important lesson for me. From that experience I learned that James was not out of his mind when he wrote this:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)
There have been other experiences since when the joy of the Lord bubbled up from within, even when the occasions were far from happy, even exceedingly difficult. Even though joy made no sense, God gave it to me.

Today I looked up the word count. It can mean consider or reckon, but it can also mean to lead, as a general leads an army or as someone leads others in respect of influence. I like that definition. The joy of the Lord is the preferred leader, particularly when times are tough.

How is that possible? I don’t know. Joy makes no sense when your parents die, or a child is in trouble, or your body is in pain, but God’s joy is there. It is produced by the Holy Spirit, and does not depend on circumstances. Like love, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, joy is a gift. The Holy Spirit produces these things in Christians, apart from our efforts.

Love is the same. Love means putting other people first, but my sin nature will not do that. Only the Holy Spirit can make that happen in me. I need to let Him fill and control my life, but on my own, love, peace and so on will not happen or be consistent. I’ll always have some selfish reason or motivation when I am happy, but the Holy Spirit’s reasons are never selfish, not me-me-me, yet not even for Himself. He does not act with Himself in mind either. 

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)
His focus is on glorifying Christ, not Himself. He is an incredible example of how to do it, and if anyone wonders about being Spirit-filled, the evidence is not necessarily emotional highs or any extreme outward behavior. The Spirit does not draw attention to Himself, but points others toward Jesus.

When my back hurt, the Holy Spirit led me to think of Christ. As I did, He filled me with joy. Instead of pain being the star player during that trial, joy ruled over the pain and God showed me that it is possible to be joyful during trials.

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