A lot of Christians say that Christians should always be joyful, and I also believe that Christians experience increasing joy. However, I think some believe “joy” means “paint an artificial smile on my face and pretend everything is ok, even though my life is falling apart and my heart is breaking.” I don’t think it means this, and neither do I think it’s always a bouncy, trouncy, Tigger type of joy. I think there are times of bright and dancing joy, but I think it’s usually more of an authentic deepness, a settled foundation, so that even when life is difficult and our hearts are breaking, there’s a light in the darkness, hope in despair, a knowing that we are always loved and never abandoned by God sort of joy. It’s like a line in a children’s song: “Real joy is mine, even if the teardrops start.”
I’ve always like stories of journeys, like the Wilderness wanderings of the Israelites in the Bible, or Peter Jenkins’ long walk across America and China, or Flanagan’s Run, a fictional story of a race across the country during the Great Depression. Stories of journeys always reminds of of our journeys through life and I learn a lot from them.
When a person travels from here to there on a long journey, there are stretches when the way is pleasant, comfortable, and happy with enjoyable friends to help and encourage. But that’s not always the case. There are a lot of different types of difficulties and dangers to confront when on a long journey.
There times when the terrain itself becomes an enemy, when it’s rocky or steep, when it leads through flood-swollen rivers or dry, waterless deserts.
There are times when the weather becomes an enemy, when the hot sun mercilessly robs you of strength, causing mirages that make you see what you most hope to see, only to disappear when you get close. There are droughts that burn the plants, drenching rain, dangerous thunderstorms, bone-searching cold that numbs hands and feet. There are snowstorms, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
Then there are the difficulties with your own body: blisters, injuries, sickness, fatigue, heat stroke, frostbite. There’s thirst and hunger. There is also mental difficulties to fight against–when your spirit is tired, and you think you can’t–just can’t–go on. There’s moments of discouragement and depression. There is self-doubt, and sweetly taunting inner voices that whisper, “Why are you doing this? Just give in, give up…”
Finally, there are dangers caused by others. Not everyone you meet are helpful and kind. Some are discouraging, telling you that you are crazy for going on such a long, difficult journey. Others might yell at you and throw stuff at you as their drive past. You might encounter liars, who purpose give you wrong directions. There might be a few who are evil, who would murder you if they had opportunities.
And, of course, there’s always soaked clothing, worn out shoes, snakes, fire ants, bears, and other inconveniences and difficulties.
I think of life’s journey being like that. Sometimes life is fun, pleasant, happy. There’s good friends to watch movies with you, to share life with. But there are days when life feels dry and lifeless, when you have to put trod on, putting one foot in front of the other. There’s times when problems rain down, when the storms of life crash around you. There are times when a friend’s betrayal leaves you feeling deep down cold, or burning pain sucks the life from you. There are times when you when your hopes are focused on a dream-come-true, only to have it disappear like a mirage when you get close to it. There’s times when discouragement, fear, anxiety, and self-doubt whisper in your mind. There are also discouraging, controlling, abusive, betraying, and even evil people, who leave you beaten and battered. Then there’s the spiritual enemies, who hate you and want to destroy you and your faith in God.
All these difficulties and dangers make life’s journey difficult and dangerous. At times it can seem impossible to go on. All have to, at one time or another, be confronted and overcome. You have to persevere with determination. And when you do, when you do confront a difficulty, and you overcome and grow through it…THAT is worth everything. That is like a plunge in Lake Michigan after climbing the hot sand dunes.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.