It’s been a hard day. We all have them. Mine was characterized by work stress, a heart wrenching email, and then a phone call with bad news of the death of a dear friend. Maybe your day was filled with unpaid bills, heartache over children, and dreams unrealized. Or maybe you are ill today, struggling against a chronic illness that threatens to undo you.
What do we do when these hard days come, because they are inevitable. Even if there isn’t a specific reason for a hard day, there are some days when we wake up absent of joy, with the feeling that something is just not quite right. We may never be able to pinpoint what it is. Sometimes I think those kind of days are the most frustrating days, actually.
In the midst of this hard day, I had to take myself in hand and stop the downward slide into despair. I knew that if I allowed myself to continue on the path I was heading down, then I would come to a hopeless spot. How do I know this? Because I’ve been there too many times to count–hopeless, despairing and joyless.
When I realized that the situation demanded that I do something drastic, I grabbed up two weapons and shut myself in my room for an hour, maybe longer. The weapons I chose were scripture–the Word of God, and a book that has been my companion many times in this battle for joy. The title is “When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy” by John Piper.
Both my Bible, my Logos Bible Software, and this book by Piper are marked up, frayed, stained, dog-earred. (well, not my software, but you get the picture). I then proceeded to study the scripture above (1 Thess 5:16-18) furiously, pounding my keyboard loudly, barely able to get out all of the words pounding in my head. When I was finished, I was sweating. It was a workout. It was all-out war.
How do we know that the fight for joy is a war? Piper explains it here:
“Christianity is war. It is a declaration of all-out combat against our own sinful impulses. The apostle Peter said “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Pet 2:1). To become a Christian is to wake up to the reality that our soul, the eternal joy of our soul-is at stake. Therefore, Christianity is mortal combat for true and lasting joy.”
The lasting weapon is the consistent meditation upon the Word of God–upon Scripture. When I do not meditate upon scripture and do real scripture work, then I am missing out on the most powerful sword I can wield in this fight for joy. Because it is the scripture of God that speaks to my soul and reminds me what joy is. It is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. Rather, it is a state of being, only granted by the one true God. It can be confused by happiness, it can have elements of happiness, but it is not happiness. It is joy. And it is divine.
Piper says “Sometimes what we need from the Bible is not the fulfillment of our dream, but the swallowing up of our failed dream in the all-satisfying glory of Christ. We do not always know the path of deepest joy. But all Scripture is inspired by God to take us there. Therefore Scripture is worth more than all this world can offer.” I know this to be truth.
I am grateful for these hard days. I hate them, but I am grateful for them. I am grateful for them because they are what remind me that my only hope in in my God. My only hope for joy is in my God. And thus I must keep fighting for joy. A soldier never quits.
So tonight I plan to put aside my John Grisham novel I’ve been reading, and pick up this Piper book to re-read. I need it’s teaching enough to re-read it, though that isn’t my habit. And tomorrow I will arise at 5:00, work through my prayer scriptures, then study well in order to fight for joy before the day even begins. And I will be thankful.
I end his post with a passage from Micah…not someone we often quote. But Piper calls his words here “gutsy guilt”. It’s the kind of “gutsy guilt” I desire to cultivate in my own life. He addresses his enemy in the verses below, and in echoing his verses I address my own enemy of joylessness and despair:
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will hear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgement for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:8-9)