This is what are aiming for, right? Well – apart from the warning that one of our old church leaders used to give, that ‘righteousness is more important than happiness’… Well, yes, OK – but given that rider, heavenly bliss is our eventual goal, isn’t it, ‘the upward call of God in Christ’ – like Jesus enduring the Cross ‘for the joy set before Him’ – and every tear being wiped away (Philippians 3v14, Hebrews 12v2, Revelation 21v4)? That is the end-point, never mind the search for happiness and wellbeing here on earth in the meantime!
Our church ‘Cluster’ did a Bible study the other night on Philippians 2 – the chapter with the great hymn about Jesus ‘making Himself nothing’ and afterwards – and in fact because of that self-emptying act – God raising Him up, higher than anyone else. Just before the ‘hymn’ bit – and they probably would have sung it, rather like a 1st century chorus – Paul gives one of his persuasive arguments, one of his ‘because of this therefore” links. He encourages his readers to consider how very blessed they are by God’s love and when they are feeling all full and happy hits them with what is now (therefore) expected of them. This is the crunch he’s aiming for – to tell the Philippians, and through them us, that – we are all meant to have Jesus’ attitude of self-emptying and demonstrate it by preferring one another, being of one mind and heart and considering the interests of our brothers and sisters to be at least as important as our own. You know, Paul really has had a bad press – he was an amazing character! Anyway, no individual selfishness is allowed, says the man of God, this is a common faith we have to share together – and when the Philippians get this right, his joy will be complete.
Complete joy – wow! We don’t experience that very often, do we? Martin often talks about his top 10 best days and that is what he is talking about, I think – the sense of fulfilment when every shadow disappears – at least for a while. One of my complaints over recent months has been the lack of that ‘carefree’ feeling – the impossibility of feeling really 100% happy and untroubled. Perhaps that’s why there’s a pull to look back at the sunny summer days and take as much from them as I can…
I was interested to discover that there are 2 other places in the Bible (in the Nearly Infallible Version at least) where this joy being ‘made complete’ phrase is found. One is in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 16v15) and seems to be both the result of obedience to the way God has prescribed for them to celebrate and the overwhelming nature of His subsequent blessing – a bit like what Paul is saying, but in reverse! The other place is Jesus speaking in John 16 – telling the disciples He is leaving them and they can’t follow and will be very sad… but like a woman giving birth there will be joy after the pain – they will see Him again and be filled with joy that no-one can take away! But even that’s not the ‘complete’ bit: that comes when they then discover they can ask the Father for things, just like He did, and the Father will do them. This discovery of their relationship with a loving Heavenly Father and the consequence of their prayers being answered is what will make their joy perfect: that’s what Jesus went to the Cross for – the joy set before Him in Hebrews 12v2 was us becoming His brothers and sisters.
So you can see I got quite drawn into this Bible study! At it’s best the word of God speaks encouragement and hope into our hearts: this is the Bible at it’s best and the revelation received is more than encouraging for us who have been through such a time of grief. It’s like that picture of the woman in labour Jesus refers to – there can be joy to come. It is very hard to let go and really, fully trust that Sam is going to stay well… He is very well at the moment, but we know it is likely he will deteriorate at some point in the future – or as Martin says, “he definitely will, that’s just what happens with brain tumours”. Meanwhile I also know that ‘nothing is too difficult for the Lord’ (Jeremiah 32v17&27) and at the moment you’d never know Sam has a tumour if you didn’t know, so maybe he is getting better, as he says… but instead of enjoying the good days, the time of peace, I can become completely focussed on these niggles, worrying like a dog with a bone. We can’t let our peace of mind, our steady joy, depend on circumstances – we can’t live that way! There simply is no answer except trust: ‘You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You‘ Isaiah 26v3. I do remember now I wrote once about having no fear of bad news – that it doesn’t mean there won’t be any, but just that it’s possible not to live in fear of it (you can see No Fear here – it’s another post that should have been in the Bible study category!)
The thing is, I can’t have 100% complete joy by my life being perfect – none of us can! There will always be shadows and niggling doubts, whether it’s the anxiety of cancers regrowing or lack of provision for the future or losing spouses or becoming unwell… This complete joy of Scripture only comes from a spiritual source -knowing that Jesus conquered death once for all and nothing can now come between us and the Father in eternity. That is the source of overwhelming blessing and the fountain of heavenly bliss: it is Paul’s comfort and joy, that of the merry gentlemen of the carol that God gives rest to(?!) and ours as well.
I’m preaching to myself: that’s how this works. And to think when I started I wanted to write about a wonderful weekend we had in July – the amazing summer I wanted to relive! Well – I will next time! And as there’s no photograph with this post I’ll make sure there are lots of those as well 🙂