[on joy and choices]
You know the feeling…
When you are going through a mental battle with yourself, trying to figure out what to do and what on earth is going on…
And then find out that someone has thought along the same lines.
It is a freeing realization, in a way.
You realize you are not alone in your war.
On Sunday, a friend of mine preached at Church.
I have known him since he was 2 years old. His parents, his older brother, and he came over to Ukraine as missionaries seventeen years ago. Much has changed in that time and this year Michael graduated from high school here in Kyiv and moved to the States to attend a university; his parents moved to Hungary, and it was generally a year of changes.
This Sunday, however, the entire clan was at our Church. His mom and all three brothers were in the worship team, his dad shared some thoughts before the sermon, and then Michael got up to speak.
I listened to him and, considering that we have spent quite a lot of time together as kids, I was proud of the man he has become.
He spoke of our identity in Christ.
He spoke of suffering that comes as price for being with Christ.
He also spoke of joy.
The topic has been on my mind for several weeks now, especially since that Bible study group meeting I shared about.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
There is a reason joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
You cannot simply have joy in light of dire circumstances. Our minds and hearts don’t work this way.
But, however impossible it seems sometimes, joy can be found in any circumstances.
While talking about suffering, Michael also mentioned something that has been on my mind for a long time.
In a way, being persecuted for being a Christian is good.
It makes the choice between right and wrong clearer.
- Preach the Gospel and you might die.
- Don’t preach the Gospel and you might live.
- But we are called to share the Good News, so the right choice is obvious.
There are times when I wish, in a way, that Christianity still was banned in Ukraine.
By that I, in no sense, mean that I wish for parents to be separated with their kids and people going through terrible sufferings…
But it does clear up the choice options – as well as weed out people who are in this just for money or fame or something.
Also, people really know what they believe.
It’s not just God-the-being-out-there-somewhere.
It’s not just we-go-to-Church-on-Sunday-it’s-a-tradition.
It’s not just we-pray-before-eating.
It becomes more than a habit.
It becomes a relationship.
And then it is possible to truly rejoice because we really know what is going on.
Because we know the One we believe in.
Because we start really identifying with Christ… even though the sufferings, even in spite of the hardships.
Our youth pastor also spoke about joy two Sundays ago.
Joy is not just an outward emotion, but also an inner confidence that hope and faith provide.
When you see it as such, it is easier to “rejoice always,” as Paul has told us.
Whatever the circumstances life may throw at us.
If there are anything good in New Year resolutions, then this is mine: to remind myself each day of “rejoicing, praying, and being thankful.”