Choose Joy in a World of Sorrow
[Guest Post by Kay Warren – When I attended the Mental Health and the Church Conference at Saddleback Church, I was inspired by Kay’s story. She has learned to choose joy through sorrowful circumstances. If, like Kay, you find yourself in mourning or grief — I hope you are encouraged today because of Jesus!]
Sisters, Jesus was a man of joy. He was a man of joy!
He showed it in his attitude; he drew crowds who couldn’t get enough of him. He showed it in his words; he was a master communicator who impacted those who listened to him in person two thousand years ago, and he impacts us today.
He showed joy in his actions; he treated people with good humor and patient understanding of their human foibles, and he was skillful in bringing them to the spiritual realizations they needed.
His joyful essence was evidenced particularly in the way he interacted with his disciples. He spent three years with them, day in and day out. He did not spend those three with them as a lecturer on the speaking circuit who used them to organize his comings and goings: “Okay, let’s go over the agenda. Who will be taking care of the donkey this afternoon? Oh, and make sure the people know that I’m coming.”
He didn’t relate as a distant professor who made them sit still while he instilled: “Now, I have three points I want to make today, and I’ll be testing you later. Is everybody writing down what I’m saying?”
No, Jesus lived his life with them.
They saw him when he was sweaty and stinky from a long walk from village to village. They knew when his stomach growled from hunger pains. They probably heard him pass gas and burp a few dozen times. I’m not saying that to be sensational; I really believe it.
Jesus spent nearly every waking—and sleeping hour—with these twelve men for three years. How could they not really know each other? I’m sure Jesus and his friends shared many private jokes, funny stories, and poignant memories, which happens only when people spend intentional time together.
I am convinced they laughed till their sides hurt at every opportunity. He loved them and invested in their lives as individuals. I think he probably knew the names of their family members for a couple of generations back; he knew the beauty and dysfunction that created each one of them. He believed in them, ultimately entrusting them with his gospel message of a joyous relationship with God. As his time on earth drew to a close, they were the ones he wanted near him—these friends who had become brothers.
Why does it matter that Jesus was a man of joy?
It matters so much more than you might have ever realized! Some of you may need permission to seek a life of joy for yourself. The burden of grief that you carry, the health issues, the relational pain, the financial questions, the internal struggles and temptations no one else knows about—sometimes all of that weighs you down so much that you give up on the idea of joy.
At times I have felt I could identify with the title given to Jesus in Isaiah; I could call myself “Kay Warren, woman of sorrows.” Perhaps that title fits you today as well, and you could ﬁll in your name too.
Many of us need permission to recognize sorrow but go beyond it and still choose a life of joy.
Yes, Jesus suffered, but we can’t stop there. We can’t let that truth dominate how we act and how we speak about him. There was a reason why Jesus chose to endure all that he did. There was a reason why he allowed himself to be bloodied and beaten and tortured.
Hebrews 12:2 gives us an insider, behind-the-scenes look at why Jesus allowed all of that to happen: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”
But what was the joy that was set before him?
What joy was so rich, so satisfying, so deep that he was willing to suffer such terrible abuse? You were the joy set before him! I was the joy set before him!
He suffered so he could be reconciled with you.
When people spat at him, his disciples left him, and everyone mocked him, he was thinking of the joy. When he was flogged, when that cruel crown of thorns was jammed on his head, and when he hung on the cross, he got through it because he was holding on to the joy of presenting us to God.
Here she is, Father; I brought her back to you.
The joy of restoring the broken relationship, of living with me and you forever . . . that was the joy set before him, that was the joy that kept him nailed to the cross.
Jesus knew that for him to fulfill his God-given role here on earth, he would have to experience abandonment, betrayal, torture, and death. Yet knowing full well what was ahead of him, he chose to laugh, to tell jokes, to roll around on the ground with children, to build rich relationships, to have meaningful work, to experience joy.
Jesus’s life is an illustration of the two train tracks converging into one. He shows us how to see joy, a joy that sometimes comes in darkness. And for that joy he endured the greatest suffering anyone has known.
This is what Jesus’s life tells me: It is possible to experience enormous burdens, pain, and struggles—the weight of the world on our frail shoulders—and still experience joy.
Jesus’s life reminds me that joy is possible no matter what.
His life gives me permission to seek a life of joy for myself even in a world of sorrow.
Kay Warren cofounded Saddleback Church with her husband Rick Warren in Lake Forest, California. She is a passionate Bible teacher and respected advocate for those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as orphaned and vulnerable children. She founded Saddleback’s HIV/AIDS Initiative. Kay is the author of Say Yes to God and coauthor ofFoundations, the popular systematic theology course used by churches worldwide. She has three children and five grandchildren. Learn more at www.kaywarren.com and follow her on Facebook (Kay Warren) and Twitter (@KayWarren1).
[Excerpt taken from Choose Joy by Kay Warren, published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2012. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.]