The Joy Set Before Us, Encouragement Along the Way

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“A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you…”Luke 6:17-20

As I read about the nonstop way Jesus lived his life, healing people, teaching them, looking after their needs, I see that the life of a someone who truly seeks to be like him is not going to be comfortable.  I have to be prepared to give constantly, all day and into the night.   I should even be prepared to be hungry, and have no place to sleep.  It will be a life where I will be unpopular.

But how do I have a choice?  It is the sovereign Lord who says, “Come, follow me.”  I MUST obey the invitation from the one who has been given all authority, the one who created with God from the beginning, the one who is the culmination of God’s plans for all of history. I cannot just seek to learn about him, like I would learn a philosophy.  I must know him and live his life, come to him who IS the way, the truth and the life.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit.”  Phil 2:1

I want to live a life that is like it popped out of the Bible.  I want to truly be like Christ.  The more I study, the more it is a scary, sobering challenge to live this way.  But there should also be encouragement.  Jesus said he gave us his peace, his joy.  Even though he had no place to rest his head, even though he always did what God wanted instead of what he wanted, he had “food” to eat that sustained him more than physical bread.  He would say his life was abundant.

Jesus didn’t let his emotions rule him.  His days were not hijacked by pride, it wasn’t about his accomplishments or failures.  He fed on the positive productive things in life — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  He realized the ultimate value of each soul, and it was gratifying to give himself in many ways each day so others could be saved.

And that giving of himself has resulted in the life I am living now.  He sought me.  His love is the motivation behind the way he works in my life every day, sustaining me  I should be heartened by Jesus’ commitment to me, his closeness to me, his working in my life.  My life as a Christian should not be a heavy burden, a drudgery, a “cross to bear,” even though the self denial and sacrifice will be hard at times.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing…”  Phil 2

Jesus made himself nothing, gave his life, and became obedient to death.  God willed and acted in Christ to fulfill his good purpose, and Christ never grumbled or complained about it.  And I also should live in a way that is utterly reverent of God, knowing He is working through me, even though I don’t understand what He is doing.  And then I should be joyful, never grumbling or arguing.

I started this entry last week, and then went to the SEC conference over the weekend.  The keynote talk by John Louie dealt with Philippians, and how so much of this book could reflect Paul’s joy, even though he wrote it when he had been imprisoned.   Louie related how Paul wrote to the Romans, “I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me…..Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God…. Then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you with a joyful heart, and we will be an encouragement to each other.”  Romans 15:30-32

When we read the account of what happened when Paul went to Jerusalem, it seems at first like God didn’t answer his prayers.  Things did not go as Paul anticipated.  The Jews attacked him.  He was arrested, shipwrecked, marooned, and so on.  But Paul was protected in an amazing way from the Jews, and he did eventually make it to Rome, where the brothers and sisters traveled to greet him as soon as he landed.

Although it didn’t seem like it when he was going through trials, there was joy set before Paul.  And there is joy set before me as well.  More than that, there is encouragement along the way in being united with Christ, in having his mindset.  As I seek to live the life that Christ lived, it will be hard.  But I am excited to see what God will do, as long as I can take my mind off of myself, my “failures” and my challenges.  Christ will give me many victories along the way, and much nourishment to my soul.

I started this post with the picture of Ethan right after he was born.  There were a lot of challenges and struggles to get to the point of birth, but it was a huge celebration when he came. What a wonderful illustration of the joy that comes at the end of trials!

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