As I cleaned up the kitchen after another family dinner, I reflected on how any ounce of delight from all the togetherness had suddenly slipped into drudge and duty. My husband and I, weary after a day’s work of juggling business and home schooling, exchanged few words between us. We were drained.
We were supposed to lead our children through the Passover meal and affirm to them the victory we have in Christ as he frees us from being slaves to sin, just as He freed the Israelites from being slaves in Egypt. I wasn't sure we were very convincing.
“Where is my joy?” I thought to myself.
Abiding in Jesus should produce the fruit of joy within us, after all.
“I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Yet, I didn’t feel joyful. Numb? Yes. Exhausted? Yes. Weak? Yes. Overwhelmed? Yes.
Joyful? Not really, at least not by my own skewed definition of the word.
Once again, I felt like I was missing a critical piece to the puzzle of the mystery of God.
In these quarantine days, my family has grown to love the challenge of fitting together 50 pieces, 100 pieces, 500 pieces to complete a beautiful picture. Assembling a puzzle gives us a sense of control, I suppose, and also a sense of accomplishment. How we long to be productive during a time God has called us to be still.
Piecing together a puzzle also reminds us of how God is at work in the bigger picture of our lives and world. God has already chosen every pivotal and petty moment to fit perfectly together to bring us into a finished work – a masterpiece for Him (Ephesians 2:10).
Nothing is on accident. It is planned and purposeful. Yes, even the pain. God planned the cross, and He planned this pandemic. He planned for us to stay home away from friends and family and church on the same day His disciples would run from the cross and hide behind locked doors. What an incredible and puzzling thought!
So where is my joy?
Tucked in my closet, leaning against the mirror above my dresser drawers, artfully sketched on a thick poster board still waiting to be framed, reads the spiritual equivalent of Mount Everest:
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
The command is so simple it seems to mock me. Yet, the joy so often drains away as the day drags on.
How Lord? How do we rejoice in the midst of pandemic? How do we give thanks in everything?
“Pray constantly,” says the Lord (I Thessalonians 5:17).
“Abide in Me,” says Jesus (John 15:4).
“Don’t stifle the Spirit,” warns Paul (I Thessalonians 5:19).
Joy isn’t an emotion I feel, but a relationship I trust in.
Joy comes solely from Jesus and is often the most baffling and brilliant in the midst of darkness.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
And on this Holy Week, on this Good Friday with the cross before me, I see it.
Jesus, for the joy that lay before Him, endured the greatest tribulation to ever touch humanity. Greater than cancer. Greater than COVID-19. Greater than job loss or loneliness. Greater than our worst fear.
We run to the cross, not away from it.
When I think of Jesus being arrested, slapped, stripped down, spit on, flogged, humiliated, and finally, nailed to a cross to die, I think of the most horrific scene you could ever imagine. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t pretending to be “fine.” He felt forsaken by his Father.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:1, Mark 15:34).
Mostly, Jesus was silent. He was pensive and determined. He was obedient to death. And He was looking towards better times, when He would rise again, reveal Himself to many and ascend to sit at His Father’s right hand in heaven.
Jesus had the end game in mind.
The joy of Jesus isn’t fake or fabricated. It’s based on what He knew would be fulfilled. It’s realized hope. It’s forward thinking that kept Jesus enduring the backwards, bitter trial of the cross. He didn’t deny the hardship of Golgotha. He despised its shame.
He knew it was Friday. But He also knew Sunday was coming.
Oh, how I pray this is a word that will free us up in the Lord during these peculiar times:
We don’t have to deny trials are hard to affirm our joy in Jesus.
We just have to run to the cross.
We gain strength to endure the trial from the promises God has given us and from the very presence of His Holy Spirit within us.
“Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I bear your name” (Jeremiah 15:16).
We can have joy in Jesus, no matter how we feel or what we’re fighting against, because of what He has already done and how He’s already provided.
“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” says Jesus (Isaiah 49:16).
Run to the cross.
Our joy comes not from outward circumstance but from inward Holy Spirit strength as we connect with the Creator who went to Calvary for us, who breathed out holy words to sustain and nourish us, and who is coming back for us one day.
So we can say in the same breath, “this virus is vicious,” and “cancer is cruel,” and “I don’t see the purpose in this pain,” all while praising God. We can be “grieving yet always rejoicing,” because Jesus died for us and is always with us (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Run to the cross.
We can rejoice in the Lord always, for His steadfast ways and finished work on the cross (Philippians 4:4).
And one day, we may even thank Him for the trial, because the trial brought us closer to Him.
Jesus stumbled on His way to the cross. He was exhausted and weary. The entire process was grueling. Yet, He knew His strength and resolve to push through to Sunday came from God (Psalm 22:19, 121:1-2).
Our strength to persevere through this pandemic, to push through any trial, to pick up our cross and follow Him - and to do it with joy in tact - always comes from God.
What then is Biblical joy - not the joy of the world or joy of the moment?
Abiding joy is that which depends on Christ, and Christ alone. It is the fruit of the Spirit that flows through us as we abide in Jesus and keep clinging into Him (Galatians 5:22).
When we cling to the cross, we cling to Jesus.
We can rejoice in the promise of this intimacy with Jesus. We can rejoice in the resurrection. We can rejoice in the hope of heaven. We can rejoice in His return. When can rejoice in His presence within us right now.
Happiness depends on happenings. But Biblical joy is the quiet and confident assurance of God’s love and work in our life – that He will be there no matter what.
Run to the cross.
Because Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, even to the end of the age, we can be joyful (Matthew 28:10).
If that kind of joy seems like a consolation prize, and I confess it has before in my own heart, then we aren’t treasuring Jesus. We aren’t delighting in His Words. We aren’t in awe of His sacrifice.
Run to the cross.
Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).
The Cross is our cure.
So, let us take our eyes off the news and place them back on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. Let us treasure that on this Good Friday, some 2,000 years ago, God had a plan. His name is Jesus.
Run to the cross.
Abide in Jesus, so that His joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. Even in quarantine.