A Heart at Rest
“Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
Joy is the byproduct of a heart at rest in God. We lack joy because we are distracted. We are troubled because our heart is fixed on everything transient and temporary. True joy comes when our heart is anchored on Jesus Christ.
“When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22).
A woman in labor is the perfect analogy of life on earth. Raising children is exhausting, yet brings so much satisfaction. When you look into a young baby’s bright eyes or listen to it coo, all the lost sleep becomes worthwhile. If we could see for one moment the paradise God is preparing, breathe in a whiff of its air, or splash our face with the waters of Eden, we would celebrate all the suffering here and now. We struggle from start to end, but not without purpose.
What is the purpose?
“That our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:2).
Christianity is unique because of joy. All races and religions experience joy in limited ways. But joy is the central theme running through Christianity. The pagan cultures were not unlike our secular culture today — known for occasions of celebration and happiness, but always with an underlying gloom and despair. What Christianity brought to the world was joy.
It would be enough if the whole Gospel served one purpose: to make us obedient servants. It would be remarkable, if Christ came simply to save us from hell. Yet, these are secondary. First and foremost, God created the universe and redeemed it for the sake of joy.
God Himself is joy: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
His reward to the saints: “Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them” (Isaiah 35:10).
Joy is the beginning and end of the Gospel.
But where is our joy now? We struggle. Last year, while Covid shutdowns were still raging, Bishop John lead a retreat with young adults. They shared their struggles and commiserated about the issues of our times. He offered them this solid counsel: “If you are not depressed right now, you are not healthy.” We have to name our suffering. It is real, and it hurts. It does not help anyone to deny pain, nor to put up an artificial smile.
Joy cannot be fabricated. We have to reach deeper into Christ.
“I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22).
Christ promised this before his crucifixion. Now he is risen. So where is his promise?
“No one will take your joy from you.”
He is describing a joy which transcends all the lesser joys in our life. This joy is the joy of resting in God.
There was once a priest in a Soviet concentration camp.
At 70 years of age, he was sentenced to finish his life behind bars. His son was killed, his daughter served 20 years, and his grandchildren forced to live in poverty. In spite of this, the priest was joyful. He greeted everyone: “Rejoice always!” One day, someone asked him, “Why all the joy?” The priest replied:
“Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written 'rejoice with all those who rejoice!' Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can't go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can't take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who can. I can't read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can't see flowers. We never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows…I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible... Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.'"
You see, joy has nothing to do with circumstances. Joy is an inner state. This priest could suffer such loss, yet never lose his joy. He carried within his heart our Lord Jesus Christ. We lose our joy when we take our eyes off from God. May God teach us to focus.
Christ is Risen!