For much of my pastoral ministry, I have spoken of the importance of joy. More precisely, I’ve spoken of the truth that our life here on this earth is not meant to be spent denying ourselves joy, but rather pursuing it. When the framers of the Westminster Catechism asked “what is the chief end of man”, they knew that the answer had to do with pursuing joy. Their assertion, and mine, is that the pursuit of joy and the pursuit of Christ is one and the same. To live your life seeking after Christ, his law, his life, his love; to do this, is to engage in the highest pursuit of joy that exists. To pursue anything in this life besides Christ is to settle for less than ultimate joy. When Jesus hung on the cross, he was purchasing our full satisfaction in him.
I believe this. With every fiber of my being, I believe this. I am staking everything in my life on the belief and hope that Jesus is a never-ending fountain of joy.
No, I didn’t say that Jesus is simply a way to get joy. I am saying that Christ IS joy. Knowing him, following him, loving him, and ever-resting more in his presence is what is joyful. “The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever.”
And throughout my ministry, as I’ve spoken on this subject, I’ve tried to explain very clearly how true this is from scripture. Paul says things like “you are restricted in your own affections” to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6:12). Jesus says that he desires that our joy be full (John 15:11), and then the Psalmist reminds us where this full joy is found…in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11)
But as I’ve spoken on this, one thing I’ve only recently begun to address more is “what about sorrow?” What about sadness? What about grieving over calamity and suffering? Those things are certainly real, and we are even commanded to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). “So, Brandon” you ask, “what about sorrow?”
What is sorrow? We could say that it’s our response to suffering. Suffering is what happens to us, and oftentimes, it makes us sorrowful. Suffering makes us sad, and the bible says nothing to condemn that truth. Even Jesus wept when he heard that Lazarus had died (John 11:35). So, we can even say that sorrow is a godly feeling, though I have to explain that further. I think that Paul says it the best when he says that there is a “double truth” regarding suffering. He says that we should regard him as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Sorrowful, but ALWAYS rejoicing.
How in the world do we do that? How in the world, as trials come, and cancer takes our loved ones, and premature death comes to our little unborn babies, and sickness continues, and depression overtakes us, and our marriages suffer, and our children rebel, and our friendships sever, and we lose our jobs, and, and, and… How, in the face of all the suffering that this world has to offer, can we keep the command to “rejoice in the Lord always?”
Well, the fight for joy is a grueling one, but I believe that we CAN be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I believe that we can obey the command to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
And that’s it isn’t it? As I said, our joy is not found in any earthly gain. No, our joy is found in Christ. We rejoice “in the Lord.” It is only in the Lord that joy can be sustained, even in the midst of trials and sorrows. The reason that we can be always rejoicing, even when we are in deep sorrow, is because Christ is what brings true, lasting joy. The cure to cancer, the healing of your disease, the return of your children, the repairing of your marriage…those things ARE joyful, but they will not bring full and final joy.
See, you may be healed of your sickness, but another trial will come. The darkness of depression may lift, but a new darkness will come. That’s the way of this world. The trials that we face in this life will not end until we leave this world. That’s why Paul described himself as a sorrowful person. There is much in this world that is wrong. There is much in this world that makes us sorrowful. When our friendships fail, we are reminded that all our relationships are tainted by sin. When our bodies break, we are reminded that death has a hold on them. When a baby dies in infancy or in the womb, we are reminded that “in Adam, all die.” There is so much in this world that makes us sorrowful.
But that is only a part of the truth right? Paul also describes himself as “always rejoicing.” Why is this? It’s because Paul knows the big picture. Paul can look around and see all the bad in this world, and he can grieve. He can grieve at what sin and death has done. But he can also look at this world and all the suffering, and he can have joy as he remembers the end of the story.
Sorrow may come as the disease spreads, but we can rejoice in Christ, because he has promised that there will be no sickness when we are fully and finally united with him. We may grieve as our marriages fail, but our joy in Christ can remain as we remember that our marriage to him will never fail, he will never leave us or forsake us.
This is the truth behind our sorrows. We may feel great sorrow, we may grieve, we may experience great suffering, but we won’t depend on any joy this life has to offer to satisfy us. Our joy is found in Christ. Sorrow WILL come, and it will be real, and we will grieve, and it is RIGHT for us to do so, but may our sorrow be turned into joy as we turn our eyes away from this broken, sinFULL world, and look again to Christ.
Jeremiah 31:13 “…I will turn their mourning into gladness”
“His oath, His covenant, His blood, Support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand, ALL other ground is sinking sand!”
It is a good thing to learn what it means to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. And as we do this, it will be a great witness to the world. Any person can have joy when things are good, but we Christians, we can have joy even in the midst of suffering and trials.
What the world needs from the church is our indomitable, our invincible joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.
May we be known as a people that are happy in Christ, through all the pain and suffering this world has to offer.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul!