Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! (I Chr.16:10,11)
It is easy to be sad, counter-intuitive to be glad, at least for me. I’ve been thinking lately about reasons for good cheer. There are plenty of evident indicators for sadness, and even if they weren’t so obvious I have this uncanny bent toward brewing them up. If you’ve ever read Owl at Home (by Arnold Lobel) to your kids, you’ll remember the story of ‘Tear-Water Tea’. (At least that’s the one I found most memorable. Hmm, wonder why?). In this story, Owl concocts a salty tea by thinking of all the sad things he can remember…both silly and poignant—pencils too short to use, a book that can’t be finished because a page is missing, mornings nobody saw because everybody was sleeping, songs that won't be sung because no one remembers the words.. sad things, broken things, lost thing, wasted things. It’s a melancholy little tale but the tears are put to good use with the resultant salty tea. I have this propensity myself even when ‘all is well’.
But then there are the seasons when so many things really seem so very sad. Whether in the world at large—earthquakes, violence, persecution, Hell looming for so many-- or the Body nearer home-- a baby born sightless, a young father losing a leg, a teenager killed in a car crash, a husband dead from cancer (these things are happening in our Body here). Or even closer to home, family things—a favorite uncle dies suddenly (this week), having just visited his brother (my dad) who is lost in the lonely anguish of Alzheimer’s, a mother tries to hang on to hope…And the details could go on ad infinitum. A mother’s heart is always under some tension or another and can easily be swamped by sadness. And yet…
Speaking of swamped, I had my first sailing outing of the season this week. It was sunny but a bit surly wind-wise. I no longer fear being capsized but being sea-sick is very real on such days! So I headed down below to curl up eyes-closed and meditate on other things. These words came to mind from a passage I’ve tried to memorize—“Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!”. I am authorized, even commanded to rejoice in the process of problems so long as I am seeking the Lord. It is not only in the resolution of conflict, pain, and loss that there is cause for celebration, but in the middle of it. This is so because my Saviour is unchanging, faithful, good, just, all-knowing, all-seeing, and all I need! And if I’m seeking Him, I’m right on course for good cheer.
In fact, if I could see every sad thing from eternity’s side there would be a luster of gold from the strands being woven for God’s glory. If He is over all and through all and in all (Eph.4:6) how could this not be so? On the back-side of each bleak reality in this world shines hope and grounds for joy. And this joy is not just in the here-after! It’s my rightful heritage now.
I’ve been gleaning thoughts on the why’s and wherefore’s of joy this week. Another passage that came to mind on the boat had this to say when I got home to see the whole context:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
and further along: Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. (Ps.32:10,11; Ps.33:1)
Of course believers too experience sorrow, but we don’t sorrow as those without hope, without understanding, without God in the world! I’ve been reading Ephesians and the contrast there is so clear. We have hope, an inheritance, immeasurable power at our disposal! We are not stuck in futility, pursuing our passions mindlessly, alienated from God and the meaning of life. We are saints—chosen, loved, destined for glory, children of light! In view of this calling we hang on to hope, we are shielded by faith in an evil world and we can go on our way with a melody in our hearts, thankful and celebrating God’s goodness in our conversations. This is pretty radical. No place for tear-soup here. But when there are tears, we can rest assured God sees. David said: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Ps.56:8) And we know that seeds sown with weeping will yield sheaves with shouts of joy! (Ps.126:6)
I was looking in the Gospels at reasons for joy…
- There’s the call to rejoice when persecuted for sharing the Gospel, because a great reward is coming (Mt.5:12)
- There’s Jesus’ admonition to the disciples to rejoice that that their names are written in heaven, not merely that demons submit to them! (Lk.10:20)
- But the passage that particularly caught my eye was in Luke 15: “…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…” This is the sort of thing that makes God rejoice!
And of course, the story that illustrates this is the Prodigal Son and his elder brother. We know all about the prodigal and the father’s warm welcome and the big celebration of the prodigal’s homecoming. But it was the other son that caught my eye. The joyless one. Why was he joyless? Why did he fail to share the Father’s joy? He boasted of his own goodness and faulted the Father for not ever having given him a goat for a party with his friends. Had he ever asked?
The Father’s gentle response reminds me of someone I know well who is prone to take so much for granted and forget the awesome truth she lives in: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” What more is there? Had the older son realized he was living in his inheritance—it was not all a future thing!? Have I? When Peter says God has given us ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ what does that mean? Is that not everything? Of course it’s important to notice that these things are granted “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”. (II Pet.1:3-4) The elder son apparently did not know His Father’s heart, did not live in close proximity to Him, had not become ‘partaker of the divine nature’. He had followed the letter of the law, but not understood his father’s heart for him. I’m reminded here of Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn.16:24) God does not begrudge us joy. He invites us to share His joy, not just in the hereafter, but now, offering all we need for life and godliness.
Remembering what this parable is illustrating takes me back to the condition for joy—‘one sinner who repents’. This brings God more joy than 99 elder sons who try to work their way into His good graces and never ‘cash in’ on all He means to be to them. Wow. Repentance-- coming back to the Father, agreeing with Him about everything, refusing to take life in my own hands and ‘do it my way’… herein is JOY! For Him, and for me.
Daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours… Now that’s an inheritance! Sounds like I’m richer than I realize.
So who needs tear tea? And why not call for a party? Can I not live in perpetual repentance and rejoicing, thankful to the One who is always with me providing all I need for life and godliness? It’s a high calling. Is this the kind of living Paul was picturing when he prayed for the Ephesians that God would give them ‘a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him’ so that they would really KNOW ‘what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe!' (Eph. 1:17-19). I’ve been praying this a lot lately. It’s the stuff of heady joy.
Maybe good cheer, joy and gladness are not so counter-intuitive. Depends on what factors I’m ruminating on… I love this passage in I Peter 1 that concludes: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
And the first part just exudes enthusiasm about the living hope we’ve been born again into—‘to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…’ and even these, Peter makes clear, are part of a priceless refining process that will yield a faith more precious than gold…
So I’m switching teas. Not settling for the salty homebrew. God grant us all eyes to see through the sadness to His reasons for gladness and so to hang on in the hope of our glorious inheritance!
'He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.' (Is.25:8,9)
“In this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” –Jesus Jn.16:33
“And this is the victory that has overcome the world—even our faith.” I Jn.5:4
P.S. Feel like singing? May I suggest Kim Walker’s upbeat “I Have Found”
I have found a peace that ploughs on through the storm.
I have found a joy that jumps over sadness.
I have found a love that lights up every room.
I have found, I've found You!
You are all I want, You are all I need,
Everything my heart could hope for.
We are longing for, the Glory of the Lord,
Cause we know there's so much more!