Someone asked a friend after a long absence, “How have you been? Are you doing okay?” His friend replied, “Oh, I guess I’m getting along fairly well under the circumstances.” He was then asked, “What are you doing under there?”
So many people are living under the burdensome weight of their circumstances. Is it any wonder there is so little joy in their lives? They have been waiting for their circumstances to change, so they could find living more satisfying. All of us have loved ones or friends who have been living with so much pain they have been unable to get on with the business of living. They have been lost because of their losses, crippled by their circumstances, paralyzed by their pain, and made miserable by their own negative moods.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a well known and highly respected author and speaker, who also became a very talented “mouth painter” after becoming a paraplegic following a diving accident, is known for her wise saying: “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” Joni is a joyful and contagious Christian, because she did not allow herself to also become an emotional cripple because of her physical limitations. Her mind was as sharp as ever after recovering, and she ultimately made a conscious choice. She decided she was not going to permit losing the use of her arms and legs to cause her to lose her faith, and thus rob her of the joy of living!
Some happenings are a matter of will. They are volitional. They are choices. Joni refused to allow her circumstances to turn her into a bitter, angry person. She was not going to be defeated, not without a fight! She refused to be imprisoned by her pain. It was not going to be easy. God never promised that life would be easy, that any of us would be immune to accidents, or that life would be a frolic! No, life would be a fight, a fight to the finish! When the apostle Paul was facing death, imprisoned in Rome, knowing he would probably be martyred the very next day, he penned his final words to young Timothy, his son in the ministry (II Timothy 4:7): “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith!” He did not say, “I have enjoyed the ride.”
So it was with Joni Eareckson Tada, who struggled for months following her accident, questioning God and battling with the evil one, who was seeking to destroy her. After being told she would undoubtedly be a paraplegic for the rest of her life, and probably be in constant pain – after praying night and day for a miracle of healing, as a “pre-condition” for getting on with her life and for “keeping the faith” – when finally there was no miracle, she came to this terrible conclusion: God was not going to deliver her from her pain! God was not going to restore the use of her arms, her hands, her legs, and her feet! If finding joy depended upon her receiving what she had been demanding, when she was trying to strike a bargain with God, then she was going to be miserable forever!
It was then, when Joni stopped struggling and striving, and started submitting and surrendering herself to God, that she made this amazing discovery; the Lord was carving into her conscious mind this important truth, which she would eventually be able to share with others: We need to make a distinction between real joy and mere happiness, which can be so shallow and so fragile. Deep inner joy (i.e. the “joy of the Lord”), comes from being at peace with God, and is “our strength.” It comes from living our lives “under new management” (i.e. the management of Christ, as the Lord of our lives), and has very little to do with our circumstances. It is usually found in spite of, and in the midst of, the most difficult and painful circumstances of life, the tough times and testing times, those times when our faith seems too weak and the forces that are against us seem so strong – those times when there is bad news and big needs, when we must learn to trust beyond what we can see, beyond what we can understand, when we learn to praise God anyhow, not matter how difficult or painful our circumstances may be.
The secret is not putting our faith in our faith, but in the object of our faith! Do not make the mistake of putting your faith in your faith, which may seem weak at this very time in your life, but be sure the object of your faith is the true and living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father in heaven, who has not promised to make life easy for us, but has promised to provide grace sufficient for our needs. Once again, I ask you to remember the experience of the apostle Paul, who never found his life as a follower of Jesus easy. However, he had discovered the secret – the secret of serenity, the secret of contentment, the secret of joy. No one had ever suffered more for Jesus than Paul. He had been stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and smuggled out of one city after another to escape from those who wanted to kill him. He wrote his letter to the Philippians from his prison cell, and told his brothers and sisters in Christ to “Rejoice! And again I say, rejoice…I rejoice in the Lord greatly” (4:4 and 10). He was awaiting trial when he wrote these words: “I want you to know that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel….It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ, and most of our brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the truth with greater boldness and without fear” (1:12-14). Then he closed his letter of encouragement by admonishing his brethren in Philippi, “Therefore (whenever Paul uses the word therefore he is about to say something very important) work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you….to do all things without murmuring…I rejoice with all of you, and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me….I have learned to be content….In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret….I can do all things through him (i.e. through Christ) who strengthens me” (2:12-14, 17-18, 4:11-13).
This the kind of faith we need! The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6); he wants us to understand that this is the kind of faith that pleases God – faith that allows us to keep trusting and praising God no matter what our circumstances are – faith that endures hardship without grumbling – faith that prompts prayers of thanksgiving and sings songs of praise at all times, but especially in the tough times of life when our faith is being tested, sometimes almost to the breaking point – but we can still praise God anyhow. Why? Because we know we can endure all things through Him who will strengthen us in our weakness, so we can “…run with perseverance the race that is set before us , looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself so that we may not grow weary or lose heart“ (12:1-3). Why? Because our cup of joy overflows with the fullness of His joy, which comes from a deep inner reservoir of peace that never runs dry, that is never drained by our outward circumstances.
So, REJOICE, and again I say, REJOICE!