For the Joy Set Before Me

From time to time the little creature called grief decides to pay me a visit. His claws scratch sharply at my soul, attempting to reopen the scars that are there because of losing Hannah. If you have lost someone you love then I imagine you may also experience sudden and unexpected visits from this unwelcome creature.

Several weeks ago I was feeling those searing soul scratches and I retreated to the place where I like to talk to the Lord—our front porch. I sat on the white tile floor with my back against the gray cinder block wall and enjoyed the early morning quiet. The rays of the newly risen sun illuminated the bright green leaves of the large tree in our front yard. The little bit of coolness in the tropical morning felt refreshing.

As I took in the beauty of the morning, I began to express my feelings to the Lord. I realized that once again I was resentful at Him for allowing me to walk through such pain. I confessed my resentment to Him, because I have learned that if I don’t, resentment will lead me to some dark places, and I am tired of ending up in those miserable places.

Then the LORD spoke gently to my spirit. “My child, I have not asked you to walk through anything that I have not already walked through myself.” Tears flowed down my cheeks as I pondered the reality that God himself knew the pain of losing a child. He knows what it feels like to watch his own child suffer and die. And He was willing to walk through that pain to secure my salvation, and your salvation. He had decided that it was worth it.

Hebrews 12:2 flashed across my mind: “For the joy set before him [Christ] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What gave Christ the strength to endure the pain, grief and shame of the cross? The joy set before Him.

Dem villagers listen intently to the Bible teaching

The joy of seeing sinners like you and me repent and believe on Him to receive eternal life. The joy of making a way for fallen mankind to re-enter into a relationship with God. The joy that has come because of Christ’s decision to endure the cross still reverberates in the halls of heaven. Luke 15:8 reminds us that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” In Papua the Dem tribe has just heard the gospel for the very first time in their own language, and many have repented and confessed faith in Christ! What joy there has been in heaven!

I am in the midst of reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I was drawn to a story he tells about Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who ended up facing the horrors of a Nazi death camp. Other than his sister, Frankl’s entire family perished in the camp. Covey recounts, “In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture.”

This quote stuck out to me. Frankl was using the power of his imagination to bring him hope in the midst of his present horrors. By imagining his future release and return to teaching—even teaching his students the hard lessons he was currently learning—Frankl retained his life, his sanity, and his dignity despite enduring grievous wrongs. Like Christ, he found the power of looking beyond the suffering to the joy set before him.

When I am experiencing incredible pain, it is not easy to take my eyes off of myself. I want to grow in shifting my focus toward God and His desire to use that very pain to minister to others in the future. I certainly haven’t arrived yet, but I am challenged—not to deny the pain, but to face it, and then to say, “I don’t know how or why, but I do know that God will use this pain for good in my own life (Romans 8:28), and to somehow bless or teach others in the future.” I can endure my present pain by focusing on the joy set before me.

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