This was last week's #lessononjoy: "In Spite Of..." In spite of my shortcomings. In spite of my failures. In spite of my sin. In spite of my brokenness. In spite of my mess. In spite of my inability to DO ANYTHING in my flesh on my own behalf....JESUS!
That's the Easter story.
JESUS came in spite of; He came because of...
Because of His fierce love for me.
Indeed, at the foot of the cross there is that reminder: Jesus loves me fiercely, in spite of! And, that my friends, equals deep, everlasting, abiding JOY!
But, there's another "in spite of" where it is more difficult to find joy, yet Old Testament writers and New Testament authors alike, ask us to squint through the blackness to find sparkling stars of joy in the midst. In spite of trial. In spite of suffering. In spite of persecution. In spite of hardship and heartache. In spite of failed expectations. In spite of no cows in the stalls, and harvested crops in the barns. In spite of poor health. In spite of____________________ (?)
Paul wrote of such joy in these words found in Romans 5:3-5 (follow the link). These words became my mantra while my son served his first tour of duty in Iraq. Good words. In spite of the hardship, and, yes (gasp), worry, I KNEW that, character would be refined, and hope would not be put to shame. Somehow, good would prevail, and it would produce BENEFIT. No matter what the outcome.
James wrote of such joy in these words (James 1:2-5). I quoted this truth (sometimes minute by stinking minute) when my girls were struggling GREATLY in their marriages. In spite of the failure, I KNEW that out of the pain, steadfastness would be born, and that the Lord would make them "perfect and complete lacking nothing." Again, I had a sense that "all things would be used for good..." No. Matter. What.
But, it's Habakuk's words (3:17-19) that are convicting. Here they are:
In spite of the fig tree that does not blossom,
nor the fruit absent on the vines,
and the olive tree failing to produce,
and the fields yielding no food.
In spite of the flocks being cut off from the fold,
and no herds present in the stalls,
yet I will find my joy in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of the deer,
and He allows me to walk confidently on my high places. (emphasis mine)
Habakkuk's world is totally bankrupt. His life is empty in the fullest sense of the word. What should be normally expected, seasonal provision, can't even be depended on...and, frankly, life looks pretty hopeless. Bleak. Yet, in the middle of the "in spite of," Habakkuk only had to look inward, not outward. That's the difference between his song and that of Paul or James. Habakkuk doesn't seem to even have a forward hope on which to hang his hat. So, Habakkuk finds his joy simply because he has a God who saved him. His joy isn't based on what God will do, but on what God had done (period). He is assured, the God who rescued him once, will rescue him again. The God who had been his strength before, would strengthen him now. The same God would help him put one foot in front of the other; and, in spite of the darkness and the weariness, would bring him confidently to a place far above the present difficulty.
Habakkuk's lesson is this: When everything is depleted and bleak, we can still have joy, because we have a God who is joy.
When there is absolutely nothing to depend on, we still have a God who is dependable.
Therein is our joy. When we can get to that place, when all seems lost, and still find joy, simply because of the God who is our salvation, we have found the key to victory.