One joy at a time

It’s hard sometimes to find something to be grateful about when you are bombarded with all the bad that is going around us. It’s certainly been the case for most people this year with COVID 19 and its ripple effects. Sometimes I’m in a dilemma whether I should turn on the news because though I want to keep updated I know what I’ll see. More deaths, more sick, broken systems, bad leadership, more confusion…

But I’ve realized with all that’s been going wrong this year there’s still been a lot of good happening and there’s still a reason to be grateful as we come to the end of the year. Amidst the cloud of darkness that has been heavy on us light has shone and I wouldn’t be shocked if for some this might be the best year of their life.

But I’m also concerned about something that seems to become common and acceptable even among believers, that is , discontentment and ingratitude. It seems to me we have allowed the prevailing circumstances to be the sole determinant of our happiness and joy. That we are happy because things are going well and mostly that means they are going our way. We’ve finally got that job, or like me we got married, or because we haven’t slept hungry or been kicked out by our landlords or just because we are alive.

I know you must be getting confused because certainly these are things to be happy about and praise God for. But my problem is if our joy depends on external factors then we surely haven’t understood our identity in Christ and the Gospel. And this is not only unbiblical it’s a dangerous thing for our souls because we are left at the mercy of our world not our Lord.

Just imagine with me how life would have been for the first disciples. Imagine if they let the world around them define their happiness. Wouldn’t they have been the saddest people on earth. I mean people and governments were out to get them literally speaking. Think about all that the apostle Paul went through and yet when you read his epistles you don’t hear him mourn and complain all the time. Instead he says things like:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5

Now my aim is not to undermine our problems or even suggest we should never complain or get angry when things are going wrong especially when they can be fixed. Rather that we understand happiness rightly from the Gospel’s perspective so that we don’t end up like everyone else. There are many reasons to be sad and depressed when you look around or even look within. But for a believer the cure to that is by looking above.

How else do you suppose the apostles lived and went to their death happy? It wasn’t because they had great lawyers or believed in themselves. It was because they looked up to the one who called them who could make good out of every situation. They saw him who called them from darkness to his light and the one they were soon going to spend eternity with. And in that case suffering and death couldn’t hinder their joy.

Christians have always had a reason to be happy even when they were not sure of the next meal, or about their jobs, relationships, health, parenting, retirement… Because their joy was found in their relationship with Jesus. It was founded on what Christ had achieved for them by rescuing them from slavery to sin, the mess that is this world and the lies of its ruler the devil. It was based on that promise, behold I’m with you always to the end of the age, Matthew 28:20. And the assurance that even if they died that night things would only get better as they woke up to eternal life in heaven. This is a joy that the prevailing circumstances can never rob from a believer.

So there’s always a reason to be grateful and when you start thinking about it you realize there’s more than one. And so what I want to suggest is as we reflect on all that’s happened this year let’s remember the joys however little and simple. To pause from all the chaos and reflect on God’s grace and goodness in 2020. Ingratitude blinds our eyes from God’s immense love, kindness and mercy and when that happens the devil only needs whisper a lie and soon we start to doubt, become discontent and get angry with God and fellow believers falling for his petty schemes.

Let’s cut him off by reflecting on God’s goodness to us. This will sound cliché but the first thing I’m grateful about is hearing the true saving Gospel over and over again this year. That God in his kindness brought people my way through the church family and friends all over the world to remind me the Gospel this year. In moments of confusion and desperation I was reminded about God’s sovereignty and his loving kindness on all his children. That I was not alone and that whatever happened God would use it to grow my love, dependence and commitment to him.

Don’t get me wrong there were times that I struggled knowing this in my head but finding it hard to believe in my heart. Times when I knew my help was a prayer away and yet found it hard to stretch that arm.

But I was reminded my hope isn’t built on me and what I feel or experience but on the unfailing and irrevocable word of God. And in that word Jesus had promised to be with me, to keep me and present me holy before his father on the last day.

I didn’t need a godfather or a guardian angel because Jesus was with me through it all. And he used his Word through his people to keep my eyes where they should be, not focused on my circumstances here and now or inward looking but looking to him the pioneer and perfecter of my faith, see Hebrews 12:1-3. I’m so grateful to God for the Gospel, for my loving church family here and beyond and the faithful preaching of his Word. What are you grateful for?

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