JOY -- that greatest of all the attributes of discipleship and the Christian faith -- is all too often the least talked about and maybe even the least experienced. But why? The fullness of our faith IS the ultimate joy and, certainly, the eternal promise that we have provides us with some knowledge and insight into the ultimate joy that is coming.
Christmas, soon to be celebrated in the time ahead, is seen, perhaps most often, as a time of joy. The resurrection that follows, as we celebrate Easter, gives us every reason to possess joy, for the ultimate gift that we have received through that. So why don't we talk about it and even feel it more? It's certainly there, in every aspect of our Christian experience.
I think the answer may be found in the suffering that is also a part of the Christian faith. I'm one of these that happen to believe in a sort of "no pain, no gain" way of examining our whole life experience. Personally, suffering has been a very real part of my life -- and continues to be -- yet, as I have grown in my perspective on life, I now realize how intertwined the suffering and the joy are. Because of what I have been through myself, I more fully understand what Jesus experienced on his way to the cross.
Before my personal experiences of pain and loss, I could never have understood what Jesus did for me, as I now do. It was simply a mental exercise that made sense. I believed it and that was it. But once I had my own experience of carrying the cross, a role I will most likely relate to the rest of my life, I not only understood suffering in a new way for having been there but now more fully comprehend joy as a culmination of the journey to the cross.
As the cross takes on new meaning, so does the joy of the birth that began it all become inextricably part of that final joy. The birth story in connection with the cross has an enhanced beauty, becoming together the beautiful threads in the tapestry that was woven throughout Jesus' life.
A familiar book of the past was called "My Joy Comes in the Morning." It reminded the reader that the brightness of the morning is only fully appreciated after one has experienced the darkness of the night. Joy is then found in the growing understanding of our faith and all that Christ has to offer. Indeed, what could be better than to see Christ in God's people, to know Christ in one's heart, and to live the life that expresses Christ in that which one does? What could be better than to know, firmly and deeply, that our amazing, almighty God is with us -- no matter what!? What could be better than to know that living and giving as a disciple of Jesus will lead to ever fuller joy, as part of our total life experience?
Our God is the most awesome and wonderful God and more than we could ever imagine. The scriptures are full of the stories of how God has worked through the lives of God's people, in virtually every situation, to bring about healing, comfort, care, and even a transformed life! What could ever be more hopeful, more full of promise, and more joyful than that?
Pastor James "Skip" French is the pastor of Highland Christian Church, 1500 Forest Hills Blvd., Bella Vista. Opinions expressed are those of the author.