Updated: Jun 19, 2018
The greater the challenge, the greater the victory. A different way of living that is empowering.
What is the difference between someone that wins a 100m race at high school and someone that wins a 100m race at the Olympics? Greatness! The size of the victory! The person that won the 100m race at school would have felt victorious in the moment, however, the person that won the 100m race at the Olympics would have felt like he was on the top of the world. The size of the challenge is directly related to the size of the victory. The smaller the challenge, the smaller the victory, and the greater the challenge, the greater the victory. If the size of the challenges that we face directly relate to the size of the victories we have, why do we avoid greater challenges and more challenging situations? The reason is simple - we have a fear of failure. We fear failure. When the challenges in our lives are greater, the level of fear we have increases also. The other reason is our inability to experience joy, regardless of the situations that we face in life. If we experience joy, whether we win the 100m race or lose it, then we become relentless. We become unstoppable. Nothing can reduce our joy, and because nothing can, nothing will. If nothing can negatively affect our level of joy, then nothing is impossible and nothing is difficult. Wouldn't it be great to live a life where nothing is difficult, where everything, no matter what it might be, leads us to a place of joy? That is what this blog is about - how joy is our strength and how addiction to affliction is an opportunity.
Nehemiah 8:10 - The joy of the Lord is your strength.
The tone of the Christian life is not to be sad or live in severity. Instead, it is a life of brightness and cheerfulness. Not only is joy for the pleasure of us as Christians, but it is also our strength as we face various trials. For example, when you face trials, tribulations and afflictions, and your focus is on you alone - in other words, your focus is on your joy - the joy of me, then you look at self and not into the mysteries of our God. The more we turn away from the attainment of joy, for us, the more we grasp the objectives of the Gospel, the more we fill our hearts with divine joy. Divine joy is joy that is obtained for the benefit of the ministry, not just for us. The benefits for us are most certainly there - we feel pleasure and gladness. However, this divine joy is a powerful source of strength. A joyous temperament cannot coexist with certain temptations such as hardness in judgement, and pride. Gladness in God is a strength that enables us to stand against the fruits of the flesh as depicted in Galatians 5:19-21 - "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Divine joy enables us to lack a need for the fruits of the flesh. We don't need pleasures of sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, self-ambition and drunkenness. Those fruits provide us with happiness that tends to be external and superficial. A lack of divine joy opens us a doorway to happiness provided by the world. Happiness is the worldly alternative to joy. It simply is not true happiness. When we lack joy, we turn to the worldly alternative. By engaging in activities such as the fruits of the flesh, people believe that it will provide them with pleasures that will lead to happiness. However, when we have the joy of the Lord, we are completely fulfilled, there is no greater joy. Our level of joy is so great that we become strong enough to stand against the fruits of the flesh, simply because we don't need them. We are already joyful. As a result, we do not need to attain joy and because we do not need to attain joy, we are able to be strong and stand firm against affliction.
"Gladness in God is a strength that enables us to stand against the fruits of the flesh."
In Galatians 5:22, Paul goes on and mentions joy as the second fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with the others. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control." The world tells us that joy is something that can be obtained by doing. Take a holiday, find the right woman/man, go out and party etc. However, joy is not something that can be pursued or obtained; it is a result, product and benefit of the Christian life. If you are Christian and you are not experiencing joy as a product in your life, you are not living the Christian life that Jesus wants you to live. Paul said that those who live in acts of the flesh, fruits of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This incredible Kingdom is described so clearly in Romans 14:17 - "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Joy is a part of the Kingdom of God. Not the acts of the flesh - the eating and the drinking. In other words, not natural things, but spiritual fruits of the Holy Spirit. Our goal must be to turn completely away from the natural things of the world that do not provide us with true joy, and instead focus on the spiritual things of the Holy Spirit that most definitely provide us with joy, that is also everlasting. Matthew 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In the Greek, the word used is Μετανοειτε. The verb μετανοεω is either compounded of μετα, after and νοειν for purposes of understanding, indicating that, after a sinner hears this preaching, they must understand that the ways in which they walk/have walked are the ways of misery and hell. In other words, the ways of the flesh are no longer an option because of where it leads to, and the only option is the way of the Holy Spirit. The word, repent is implying that a change of conduct is necessary - whatever our own opinions are - they are wrong. The Greek word may be derived from μετα after, and ανοια, meaning madness, implying that the whole life of a sinner (of the flesh) is a course of madness and folly. The why - the reason why someone must repent and change their conduct is that the "kingdom of heaven is at hand" and because the things which they are doing to acquire joy is madness and folly. The kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God mean the same thing - God designed His kingdom of grace to be resembled here on earth, the kingdom of His glory above. This is why the Lord teaches us to pray that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Not our will, but His!
"Joy is not something that can be pursued or obtained; it is a result, product and benefit of the Christian life."
Divine joy is tied to trials, persecution and affliction in the Bible. We see this from Acts 13 onwards. The reason it is tied is due to the changes that have taken place in the church during this time. The apostles were dealing with believers that were mature, and struggling to apply the Gospel to their lives. Opposition and challenges started coming - political and economic challenges. Today, it is much the same. There are challenges which we face. The reason why a challenge results in a victory is because, whether we beat the challenge or not, it is an occasion for joy. James 1:2 - "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials." Any affliction that you face is an occasion for joy. We will suffer. The reason we must find joy is that we are suffering for our Lord, our Creator. 1 Peter 4:12-13 - "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." Exceeding joy!
"Any affliction that we face is an occasion for joy."
Among the most joyful accounts in the Bible, many are letters written by Paul during his imprisonment (Acts 28: 16-31). Paul wrote the books, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon during his time in prison - he gave encouragement when he needed encouragement. He was imprisoned and referred to his affliction as "light affliction" when compared to the "eternal weight of glory." Romans 8:18 - " For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Sufferings are those things in our lives such as persecutions and sicknesses - all things that believers are called to endure. These sufferings are so small in comparison to the scale and magnitude of our future glory. Our future glory is eternal, and cannot become dim or diminish over time. You do not compare things that are small with things that are large, in order to explain the size, breadth and magnitude of what which is small, but to explain the size, breadth and magnitude of that which is large. Comparing the earth to the sun enables us to understand how small earth is and how large the sun is. What Paul is saying here, is that our sufferings are so small in comparison to our future glory, that the two cannot even be compared. Comparing them would be a waste of time. That is how small our sufferings are. When we understand how small they are in the grand scheme of things, we can't help but find joy. If our sufferings are the size of the earth, our future glory will be the size of all the galaxies, combined, multiplied by infinity.
"Paul wrote the books, Ephesians, Philippians, Collosians and Philemon during his time in prison - he gave encouragement when he needed encouragement."
In 2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul speaks of his joy in the midst of his afflictions, "Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation." Paul finds joy in tribulation. However, Paul not only finds joy in the tribulations that he faces. He also lives in joy - 2 Corinthians 6:10 - "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” Regardless of the situations we face, there is always a positive. You may have no earthly possessions, but yet you have everything. These afflictions that we experience result in patience - James 1:2-4 - "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." We must find joy, when our faith gets tested, because the end result is patience. And patience enables us to be complete. When we lack patience, we complain, lose our temper, become agitated and irritated. A lack of patience results in a lack of joy. They are both linked together. You cannot be joyful when you lack patience and you cannot have patience when you lack joy. Joy and patience, practiced over time, enables us to lack nothing. Having joy, regardless of affliction, at all times, means that you lack nothing because the attainment of something does not result in greater joy - you already have the divine joy.
To lack nothing. Isn't that the goal that most people around us have? If you lack nothing, that means you have obtained everything that you want and need. It means that there is nothing out there that you need to buy or do because you lack nothing. At this moment in my life, there is nothing that I lack because I have everything I can possibly need. I didn't always have this perspective, but joy allows me to lack nothing. Yes, there are things that I dream of buying one day and places that I would like to visit. However, these are simply things that I can do on Earth, on the planet that God gave us. They are things that I can do, not things that I need to do to obtain joy, in order to lack nothing. I already lack nothing. For example, let's assume that I saw creation but I was not created. Let's say that I was aware of my life before I was born. That I could see everything in existence but I wasn't part of existence - I could see humans interacting and enjoying the lives that God gave them but I couldn't partake in it. I didn't breathe, I didn't have a body. I was not created - I was simply a spectator. After a number of years in the background, God saw my desire, that I wanted to be a part of His creation and that I wanted eternal life. He then decided to give me life. We came from nothing and we were nothing, yet thanks to His everlasting love, He decided to create us. There I was - created to be someone, to be something. To be His disciple, to be an important part of His purpose, of His will. The reality is this - every one of us came from nothing. We were nothing but now we are something. Created for a purpose and provided with spiritual gifts. Therefore, if we were nothing and now have eternal life, is it not true that we have everything we could possibly have and have no reason not to be joyful? Therefore, let us be joyful and let us rejoice. There is nothing greater than divine joy, and as a result, nothing you attain can improve it or make the divine joy any greater than it already is. Patience results when we find joy in the testing of our faith. In other words, the appropriate effects take place - there is no hindrance from our part/involvement because we are joyful. If we are not joyful, our involvements of murmurings and rebellion obstruct the positive influence of afflictions on the soul. When we get involved, we are in opposition to the will of God. Every affliction has results to be accomplished. The result in this case is that you "may be perfect and complete." Explained by the phrase followed thereafter - "wanting nothing;" you need nothing to complete your character. Afflictions develop and grow your character, and therefore, we must not hinder its effects - allowing them to develop the good things inside of us.
Habakkah 3:17-18 - Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The reality is that there is always a reason to rejoice. Regardless of our situation, there is a reason to rejoice. Habakkuk 3:17-18 gives a description of the Babylonian invasion if it were to occur. The end result would be starvation and death affecting thousands of families. The invaders would take everything that has value; the remains would be destroyed to make the lands uninhabitable. This prospect being described was agonising in the heart of Habakkuk. Without any further emphasis on these harsh potentials, he declares his trust in the Lord - his joyful trust declaring that whatever happens, he will be joyful. Whatever wilderness we may find ourselves in, we feel solid joy - true happiness from one source being Christ manifested in us. Whatever the world provides cannot come close - business, entertainment and pleasure lack lasting joy. It is hard to say, "we greatly rejoice always" because we are human. However, we can certainly rejoice in no other; real pleasure cannot be taken from any other source. One smile, one word, one moment from the Lord communicates joy - from no other source can true joy be drawn.
Exodus 14:14 - The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
Getting addicted to affliction is a must in the lives of Christians. We are called to suffer for Jesus. If we find joy in affliction, is it not clear that we must get addicted to these challenges exclaiming from the mountains, "The Lord has counted me worthy of suffering for His name's sake" just like the apostles in Acts 5:41 "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name?" When you count it all joy even when there is affliction, you will always have joy. The reality is that joy cannot be found anywhere else. You can't find it in money - Jay Gould, an American millionaire had plenty, but on his death, he uttered these words, "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth." He could not find contentment in his money. When your joy comes from the Lord, it doesn't matter what challenges you go through because your joy comes from the divine source.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - We all experience times of testing, which is normal for every human being. But God will be faithful to you. He will screen and filter the severity, nature, and timing of every test or trial you face so that you can bear it. And each test is an opportunity to trust him more, for along with every trial God has provided for you a way of escape that will bring you out of it victoriously.
In what areas in your life can you experience greater levels of joy right now? What challenges are in your life right now, and what can you do to start embracing them as victory opportunities?
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