Thursday, 27 August 2020

Joy and peace

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing… (Romans 15:13)

What do you really want? My guess is that the first answer that popped into your mind probably isn’t your real answer. Romance, success or money might immediately come to mind, but there are so many people who could testify that these things don’t really scratch the itch, fill the void, satisfy the longing of the human spirit.

What about joy and peace? If it were possible to have that, would you want it? The Bible teaches, and multitudes of Christians testify, that it’s not a pipedream or a fairy tale. Joy and peace are available.

The message of the gospel tells us how we can be brought into a right relationship with God through Christ. It tells us how God overrules in all that happens in the lives of His people for their ultimate and eternal good. It assures them of eternal happiness that lies ahead, and promises that God is with them all the way through this life. There is plenty of evidence that the Bible can be trusted on these amazing claims it makes, and Christians can prove the reality of God’s power and presence in their own lives.

So, here’s how to live with joy and peace – by believing. Even those of us who do believe the gospel can fail to believe it functionally. We stake our eternal future on its truth yet often live as if it isn’t true. We can get taken up with our own plans and so, when things don’t go according to plan, we lose our joy and get anxious.

However, if we bring the truth of the gospel into these situations, joy and peace will remain. Whether you are suffering a minor inconvenience or a major tragedy, the gospel assures you that you are loved by God, He is in control, He has a good purpose, and all will be well. This allows you to have joy and peace no matter what is going on.

In your trials, believe the truth of the gospel and even though you will still have sorrow, you will have joy and peace. It’s that simple. Simple, but not easy. It is far from easy to live in that frame of mind. It’s far from easy to have joy and peace when the burdens of life are crushing you. That’s why Paul says at the end of the verse that this can only be done “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This requires nothing less that omnipotence. We can’t naturally live like this. The Christian needs to draw on the strength and resources of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, quotes a story one of his colleagues, Thomas Schmidt, wrote about. It really makes the point. Schmidt regularly visited nursing homes to spend time with people who didn’t get visitors. He recounts an incident one Mother’s Day:

On this particular day I was walking in a hallway that I had not visited before looking in vain for a few who were alive enough to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases. Strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs and looking completely helpless.

As I neared the end of this hallway I saw an old woman strapped in a wheelchair, her face was an absolute horror. The empty stare and white pupils of her eyes told me that she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me that she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten by cancer. There was a discolored and running sore covering part of one cheek and it had pushed her nose to the side, dropped one eye and distorted her jaw so that what should have been the corner of her mouth was the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly. I also learned later that this woman was 89 years old and that she had been bedridden, blind, nearly deaf and alone for 25 years. This was Mabel.

I don’t know why I spoke to her. She looked less likely to respond than most of the people I saw in that hallway. But I put a flower in her hand and said, “Here is a flower for you, Happy Mother’s Day.” She held the flower up to her face and tried to smell it and then she spoke and much to my surprise her words, though somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously produced by a clear mind. She said, “Thank you, it’s lovely, but can I give it to someone else? I can’t see it you know, I’m blind.”

I said, “of course,” and I pushed her in her chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought I could find some alert patients. I found one and stopped the chair. Mabel held out the flower and said, “Here, this is from Jesus.”

It was then that it began to dawn on me that this was not an ordinary human being. . . Mabel and I became friends over the next few weeks and I went to see her once or twice a week for the next three years. . . It was not many weeks before I turned from a sense that I was being helpful to a sense of wonder. And I would go to her with a pen and paper to write down the things she would say. . .

During one hectic week of final exams, I was frustrated because my mind seemed to be pulled in ten directions at once with all of the things that I had to think about. The question occurred to me, what does Mabel have to think about? Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, not even able to know if it is day or night. So I went to her and asked, “Mabel, what do you think about when you lie here?”

And she said, “I think about my Jesus.”

I sat there and thought for a moment about the difficulty for me of thinking about Jesus for even five minutes. And I asked, “What do you think about Jesus?” She replied slowly and deliberately as I wrote, and this is what she said,

I think how good he has been to me. He has been awfully good to me in my life, you know. . . I’m one of those kind who’s mostly satisfied. . . Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus, he is all the world to me.

And then Mabel began to sing an old hymn:

Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all.
He is my strength from day to day,
Without him, I would fall.
When I am sad, to him I go.
No other one can cheer me so.
When I am sad, he makes me glad.
He’s my friend.

This is not fiction. Incredible as it may seem, a human being really lived like this. I know, I knew her. How could she do it? Seconds ticked and minutes crawled, and so did days and weeks and months and years of pain without human company and without an explanation of why it was all happening – and she laid there and sang hymns. How could she do it?

The answer, I think, is that Mabel had something that you and I don’t have much of. She had power. Lying there, in that bed, unable to move, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to talk to anyone . . . she had incredible power.

Is there any worldview other than Christianity that could give Mabel this joy and peace? Is there any person other than Jesus that could do it? Is there any power other than the power of the Holy Spirit that could do it?

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