DECEMBER 20: Both/And
From every perspective, the earliest followers of Jesus seemed to have incredible attitudes when life was very, very dark—like life-and-death dark. They weren’t “happy” all the time, because that would mean their circumstances were pleasurable.
They had joy. Just like Jesus promised.
A couple of decades after Jesus got the death penalty from Rome, people who identified with him were being wiped out under Emperor Nero—like the baby boys slaughtered by Herod around Jesus’ birth, but on a much grander scale.
One of Jesus closest followers, a man named Peter, wrote a chain letter to encourage people who scattered during the terror. It’s surprisingly upbeat.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.*
Peter was one of hundreds who claimed to see Jesus alive after he clearly died on a Roman cross. That leads him to be even more confident in the bigger promises of Jesus—the kind that won’t rust or depreciate on us. The Christmas present that we won’t get tired of in a couple of weeks.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.
This isn’t escapism. Peter’s not talking about some “gift” to help suffering people ignore the realities of life, but rather endure them.
People reading Peter’s letter were being tortured, separated from their families, imprisoned, put to death. Following Jesus doesn’t mean you won’t lose your job, you won’t lose your health, you won’t lose your marriage, you won’t struggle.
But there is a gift that gives you joy—resilient “OK”-ness—right in the middle of it. Here it is…
You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. *
Peter is saying we can trust we have something even though we can’t see it. God’s given us something that can give the most profound joy and, though everything can (and will) be taken away and, yes, it will sting and sting badly and, yes, we will mourn and we will cry and we should…we won’t be devastated because our soul has what it needs most and it won’t lose it.
Nothing can separate you from what you needed most.
See, joy doesn’t enter your life when you get what you want.
Joy is what happens when you find who you needed most.
You aren’t the only one who has tried to treat stress in one area by creating happiness in another. Work might be tough, but vacation helps for a moment. Finances are depressing, but maybe exercise gifts you a boost.
But joy doesn’t require leaving what hurts—it doesn’t require escaping my pain—but one I have with me in my pain. This is the joy of having the right person with you while you grieve or get bad news or feel threatened. It will be hard enough facing life’s struggles, but you don’t have to face them alone. And one day, you won’t have to face them at all.
Today, if you want real joy, you won’t find it by avoiding darkness. It will be found in the darkness—a place to discover there are some needs that only God can meet. Joy to the world, the Lord has come…to you.
PRAYER FOR TODAY
“JoyGiver, maybe I’ve never noticed it before. I get so much out of life and, I also get so heartbroken in it as well. Maybe I’ve never really anchored my soul into joy. I want this to change. Today. No matter how good or bad life seems, I have you. I have you! I have you! I’m never without the “who” I need most. Make me aware of You.”
*excerpts from Peter’s first letter to Jesus followers scattered during the great persecution of Nero, chapter 1, verses 3 through 9