During the third week of Advent, we focus on the theme of joy. Joy does not come to us from the absence of pain and sorrow. Rather joy is a practice—something we choose to develop in our lives over time. And the question we often wrestle with is how do we live in such a way that our joy knows no bounds in spite of the troubles we experience? How do we hold sorrow in one hand and joy in the other hand?
The Apostle Paul knew how. And to begin, we must first acknowledge that Paul refused to deny or ignore the problems and troubles that he endured. In his letters he regularly mentioned his troubles. He would reference his chains in prison (Philippians 1:7) or a thorn in his flesh, a messenger from Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul understood something crucial: that even though _____ was happening, joy could be found. Even though Paul was locked up in prison for no crime, joy could be found. Even though his plans did not pan out, there was joy. Even though relationships didn't turn out the way he'd hoped, there was cause for joy.
Paul understood there was a bigger picture, and that often when he couldn't make sense of the picture, he would need to look at it from a different angle. Much like an image zoomed in so close that we can't see what it is until we zoom back out—Paul would regularly need to zoom out to see how God was working. For example, when he was in prison, he refused to let that keep him from sharing the gospel. In fact, he essentially said in Philippians 1:12-13, "I'm not chained to this prison or these palace guards. No! They are chained to me! And now I have a captive audience." As a result, those tasked with guarding him heard the gospel—and many of them responded in faith.
And so, he challenges you and me to live the same way. In Philippians 1:27 he says, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worth of the gospel of Christ." In other words, if you sense the problems rising, or the sorrow overwhelming, how should you act? In a way that will be worthy of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
You see, Jesus is our example in this matter—who "for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus knew pain and sorrow—yet he could see joy as he endured and persevered through it. Jesus is our example of someone who knew both joy and sorrow.
My challenge for you this week: Ask yourself what is my worthy action today? When you're facing a difficult situation—one filled with pain, uncertainty, or sorrow—what would Christ have you do? Remember joy is a practice or habit that we take on and develop. Advent reminds us of the joy that comes through Christ.
Here are some questions for reflection:
Have a blessed week!
Notes from the Staff @The Woods