April 12, 2013

The goal is God, not joy

After prayer yesterday, joy filled my heart. Then, later in the day and for no reason, I was sad. I examined my heart and actions, but was unable to pinpoint any reason for that Holy Spirit joy abandoning me. This morning I thought of a verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Some versions say that in sorrow the heart is made “better.” Could it be that in joy, I don’t think much about my spiritual state? It is only when that joy is gone that I wonder if my life is pleasing God, and in that wonder, seek to make sure it is? Is it also possible to enjoy the joy more than the One who gives it? Would it be better for my spiritual life if He withdrew it so I might realize that my priorities have slipped?

Lest I think this is too much navel gazing, this morning’s devotional reading is again about the permanent value of suffering. Mild as unexplained sadness might be, it is a form of suffering and it does have value.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. (Revelation 15:2)

The devotionals says that “in almost every Christian’s experience come times of despondency and gloom, when there seems to be a depletion of the spiritual life, when the fountains that used to burst with water are grown dry; when love is loveless, hope hopeless, and enthusiasm so dead that it is hard to believe that it ever lived.”

My mood yesterday was not that low, but there have been days when all I could do was grab hold of the basics of my faith: God is with me, even if I cannot perceive Him, my sins are confessed and forgiven even if I feel like the lowest of the low, and Jesus loves me with an everlasting love. Nothing can change the unchanging God, including my failure to joyfully appreciate His grace and goodness.

The devotional also offers another thought. After a day (or a week or much longer) of feeling God has abandoned me, when that dark spell is over and joy returns, that joy has “a new color, a new warmth.” Instead of merely feeling fed and satisfied, the sense of being rescued is richer and deeper. I had been a sheep made to lie down in green pastures (saying ‘ahhhh’) but a spell of sadness gives a renewed sense of the voice of Jesus who “left the ninety-nine in the wilderness” and came to rescue me, even though I’m not sure what made me wander astray.

There is more. I complain that things seem hard when nothing has changed to make them so, but when I do not complain but seek God, then He grants grace to press on to that goal of being close to Him again. Today’s reading likens this to climbing a mountain. It says, “To climb the mountain on its hardest side, where its granite ribs press out most ruggedly to make your climbing difficult, where you must skirt chasms and clamber down and up ravines, all this has its compensation. You know the mountain better when you reach its top.”

His goal is never despondency and defeat, but to test and prove faith and perseverance, and to bring me into a place of victory where I joyfully stand in a high and holy place — making music that He gives me the ability to make. I just need to focus less on the music and the joy, and more on the One who hands me the harp.

(Artwork by the amazing Nathan Green

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