I listened to John Piper’s last sermon tonight as Pastor of Teaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I tuned in because I truly was curious as to what such a well-known and well-loved pastor would have to say to his congregation as he ends 32 years of ministry there. I came out of the sermon both shaken and resolved; messed up in a good way.
His passage was 2nd Corinthians 6:3-10:
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
I couldn’t possibly even begin to summarize his message for you tonight, I can only share with you my response, and hope that it will help your soul as well, as we walk into the unknown of 2013.
Piper’s main focus throughout the message was verse 10: Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Sorrowful in sufferings, sorrowful in the sadness of life here on this earth, YET—-yet always rejoicing. Always joyful. With the reminder that joy is not “chipper”, Joy is not “happy”, Joy is something we must fight for. Joy is something much deeper than happiness. Joy is all pervasive. Joy can be had in the midst of terrible suffering, if one’s focus is on Christ our Savior. Joy is a gift from God.
Piper had this to say about Jesus: “I think Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. And oh how sorrowful. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
And it’s true. Jesus knew true joy in His oneness with the Father. I think he delighted in his friends, I think he delighted in ministry. But He was also a man of sorrow. He knew intense grief for this world. He knew intense suffering at the hands of men. And He knew intense sorrow and anguish in His death as a sacrifice for our sins. But even in those sufferings, even in that anguish, He knew joy.
Piper also addressed Romans 8, a chapter that I recently finished thoroughly studying. He had this to say about the end of that chapter:”It is no accident the greatest chapter in the Bible (Romans 8) ends with Paul doing everything in his truth-laden power to help our joy be indomitable in suffering.”
And it is true. Paul, at the end of chapter 8 expresses with great emphasis this point. Read it. In all the possible sufferings that we will face–not might face, but will face–we are MORE than conquerers in Christ. In the midst of the sufferings. Not before, not after, but in the midst. More than conquerers. Wow.
And so I turn and look at my soul. And honestly there is much sorrow. There is heavy sorrow that I wake up with nearly every morning. There is sorrow not just in the events of my life of recent, but along the timeline of my life. That sorrow is always there. I pray for it to be removed, and yet it remains, just like I pray for the nightmares I have to be removed, yet they remain. This sorrow is something I have to fight on a daily basis! And when I don’t, it permeates my soul and paralyzes me. It deepens and lessens, depending on the day, though I know not how to predict it’s ebb and flow.
And yet, there is immense joy as well. God-given joy. Joy that I don’t believe I would recognize as such, if it were not for the sorrow in my soul. This joy is unexplainable. This joy is uncontainable. This joy is what causes me to be able to wake up tomorrow morning and help lead worship–real worship–at church, because the joy in worship is intense, it is real. This joy overflows when I see all that God has done for my family and I, and continues to do. He has done great things for us.
And this joy is in Jesus, my Savior. It comes from knowing that what I deserve is not what I am receiving; instead I receive mercy and grace and unconditional love. And joy.
So how does this relate to 2013? I want 2013 to be a year where I fight even harder for joy. Where I battle for it. Where I can share the joy gifted to me with others who are sorrowful; who are suffering. There is no knowledge as to what 2013 is going to bring, other than it will bring both good and bad, joyful times and hard times, blessings and sufferings. O that God would use me, and would use you, to share joy-indomitable joy, uncontainable joy with those who are joy-less. And more than that, much more than that; that He would use us to share with those in need of joy, the only one capable of granting peace and joy in the midst of sorrow and suffering–our Jesus.