“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” John 15:11
Yesterday, in the morning church service, I can’t even remember what it was exactly, but You struck me with a question, Lord. Maybe it was a left-over thought from Small Group that morning, or an overflow from the thoughts in the singing, I don’t remember. But I didn’t want to forget, so I picked up my journal and wrote it down. “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?” That’s the question.
And somewhere, after that thought, we sang Forever Reign. Now, You made me so that words mean so much. So here are those words spoken to my heart, “Am I willing to experience pain and keep on loving like You?” And then You add to them the words from this song. You reiterate Your goodness and my lack of goodness. You reiterate Your love displayed so publicly. You reiterate Your light that overcomes darkness. You reiterate Your hope that covers my sin and goes beyond. You reiterated Your peace that conquers my fears. You reiterate Your truth despite my wandering time and time again. You reiterate Your joy that is why I sing. You reiterate Your life which means more than me not being afraid of death. And then I come to these words, “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms! The riches of Your love will aways be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace. Light of the World forever reign.” And then the list of what You are and who You are went on. But all I could think of was how desperately I need to run to Your arms. All I could think of was about the riches of Your love and how Your mercies are new every morning, every moment despite me. All I could think about was that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, compares to Your embrace. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, compares to Your presence and Your nearness and You.
“You are more than my words will ever say,” how close to home that hits. Look at me and how I love to write and I love words and living them but all my words pale in comparison to You. All I can share is some little glorious particle of You. You are so much more. You are Lord and even creation declares it whether we listen and acknowledge or not. You are here. I can know and experience Your presence. Without it I am empty. In You I am whole. You are God. That’s all that matters. I can let go of everything else and hold to the thought that is You and I will be O.K. No, I will be better than O.K. Because it’s what makes my heart sing. You make my heart sing. You are my song.
But that’s the problem. Sometimes our hearts want to sing a different song. Sometimes we look for our completeness elsewhere in other people or things. But not one of them is a viable alternative. And maybe sometimes we aren’t even interested in looking anywhere. But there is no other name, no other person, no other thing where completeness and wholeness and well-being and love and peace and joy and perseverance can be found except in the person of Jesus.
I know that because there is no one who has ever loved me to the extent that You have, Jesus. In Isaiah 46:6, You call Israel to remember. You say, “Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me…” Do I think that Israel is the only child who needs to be reminded? No, I get lost in misplaced trust also. I get lost in selfishness. I get lost in my feelings.
Time and time again, the Israelites got lost in their circumstances and their desires. And sometimes God had to bring bigger, harder things into their lives to get them to realize their dependence on Him and emptiness without Him. Besides that, we just forget. We forget that You have a plan and that none of these adverse circumstances or terrible events in our lives changes or stops that plan. We forget who You are and give more power to these circumstances. I suppose we let these things in our life become idols that control us. But You wake us up, harshly if You have to, because You love us. You say, “ Listen to Me, you stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness…” I suppose we can interpret that as stubborn but it’s only stubborn because we’re refusing to acknowledge that God is still sovereign, still in control. See, it’s a brave thing to be stout-hearted under the right commander, but not if Your heart is following the wrong leader.
Through all the junk in life we experience, through all the heart-ache and suffering, God is in control. You are having Your way. And the secret is to remember You and draw near to You and Your righteousness. You tell us it’s not “far off” and Your “salvation shall not tarry.” Just like You promised Israel, You promise us and You made good on that promise and You make good on it. As a matter of fact, Jesus went through more junk than we’ve been through for our sake and for God’s glory. And it’s by this that we know love. It’s by this that we experience fellowship with You, God. By what? “That He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
Think about that. What was Jesus’ attitude to all the crud of life that happened and stood against Him and His? “For the joy that was set before Him” He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) You were controlled by the joy of what would ensue, what would come. You despised the shame, You deliberately chose to look at the shame and the meanness and the horror with contempt. You chose to not regard it. You chose to regard the joy of bringing people into God’s kingdom more than the horror You were experiencing. Maybe the horror was just momentary, but You knew the joy was eternal.
How could You look to the joy over the pain? Because God was Your focus. And God’s focus was on our good. And God was so worth it, and was holding us so worth it, that it was all You could think about. It was all You could think about, to bring Your children, Your brothers into Your kingdom with You for the glory of God and the fulfillment of His pleasure. It was worth Your death to You. It was worth the pain and suffering because Your love was so great. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) You know, that’s true, and I can’t get over it. But then again, I’m not supposed to.
But it was never meant to stop there. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26,27) That’s what 1 John 3:16 is reminding us. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” I can’t be a true witness for You if I’m not like You. I can’t be a true witness for You unless I respond to circumstances like You did, for the joy set before me. See, I have brothers and sisters out there, some who don’t even know they are yet, and the way I respond to life’s circumstances will be a demonstration of what I believe about You. My life is my witness to who You are that others will see. Every day You ask me to follow You. Every day You ask me to lay down my life for others in the same way You laid down Your life for me. Will I lay down my life by keeping my focus on God’s glory, by clinging constantly to Your presence, and by never forgetting the love of my brethren and looking toward their benefit over my own? That’s the question, isn’t it?
Am I willing to experience pain and keep loving like You? It’s not easy. But I’m starting to learn. I’m starting to stop focussing on the pain because I do love You more. And I love the ones You’ve put around me. I want them to finish well and if I don’t, well, I might lead them down the path of death instead of life. I don’t want that. Lord, I want to be able to suffer in righteousness keeping my eyes on You and not the pain. I want to look at You and think about the joy of those others who will look to You unwaveringly too. Maybe it’s not even about being strong. Maybe it’s about a love so deep that it conquers even in weakness. I want to love that deeply that there is no conquering that love because it’s straight from You. And in that love is where my joy is complete. And in that love is where the joy of my brethren will be complete. And in that love is where I want to be, because that’s where You are.