One fateful day I tremblingly got down on my knees with my brand-new Bible open on the bed in front of me. I couldn’t pray! All I could do was will myself to stay there as my best friend looked at me in shock. Then I heard the door open, and she called out to the girls down the corridor, “Come here and look at this! She's gone cuckoo!” As I heard the footsteps coming along the corridor to “look at this,” a huge sense of joy engulfed me. I think joy is feeling God’s pleasure.
So many people think joy is experiencing their own pleasure. But it doesn’t work like that. When we bring joy and delight to the heart it doesn't work like that. When we bring joy and delight to the heart of God, He lets us know that deep down inside us, and our heart smiles. When Jesus sent the larger group of His disciples out to minister in His name for the first time, they returned full of excited stories of what had happened. They also “returned with joy” (Lk. 10:17). “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’” (Lk. 10:21). When we are doing the Father’s good pleasure-the things He has called and gifted us to do-His joy is transferred to our hearts, strengthening us to please Him. After all, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). When Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell ran, he experienced the joy of God. “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure,” he said.
As I knelt there by my bed in college, I felt his pleasure. I knew I was exactly where I ought to be, doing what I should be doing. It would be alright, even though I was sure this was the end of those friendships. I was right about that. My friends never spoke to me again, and I was left to find out whether God would give me other friends. I know now that if I had not passed that basic test, I would not have been ready for the next one, and the next and the next. Whatever small challenge you are facing as a Christian in a hostile world, never underestimate its importance. God is strengthening you along the way for the bigger challenges ahead.
It might be that you do His will and your heart smiles but other hearts frown, or worse, scowl! You may feel God's pleasure while others are incensed. In the same passage that Jesus talks about the disciples knowing His joy and their joy being full, He talks about the world hating them (Jn. 17:13-14). The forces of evil are not moved by our joy. In fact, their fury knows no bounds when they come across joyful Christians, and they set about wiping the joy off our faces. They do this by entering the arena of our testing and trying to use it to their advantage. But God is on our side, and we shall not be moved, even in the greatest trials.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who, in the face of Nazism, said, “When a person has completely given up the idea of making something of himself-then one throws himself entirely into the arms of God, then one no longer takes seriously his own sufferings, but rather the suffering of God in the world” (Broadman’s Commentary on John, p. 372).
Bonhoeffer took his prison term as a gift of God to him and an opportunity to minister to other victims in the prison. Bonhoeffer lost his life to gain it in a better place. He became so identified with the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings" that his life stands as a beacon and an example for the suffering church around the world. We need to give up the idea of making something of ourselves. As we focus on the things that matter to God and not the things that matter to us, we’ll be able to buckle down to the task at hand.
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