(February 1999 – Volume 5, Issue 2)
Scripture never implies that life is easy. Living with sinful people in a sin-infested world, the actual domain of the father of sin (the devil), should serve as a clue that our journey through this life was not meant to be smooth. As God’s children we will never be at home on the earth; we will never settle down or become too comfortable. But that does not mean that our journey here has to be miserable. The Scriptures often speak of joy and even happiness in this life. The path, however, from the misery that may be ours, to the joy that should be ours, is littered with obstacles. We examined some of those obstacles in our last paper. They included the busyness of life, a herd-mentality, distorted values, the desire to be entertained, people, sin, and wrong attitudes.
In this paper we will attempt to navigate through some of the obstacles that clutter the road to joy. In order to do so we will need to make some adjustments in our travel plans: We must adjust our view of rest; our priorities; our understanding of friendship; our thoughts on weariness; and our view of God.
The giving of the Sabbath was an early indication that God created man with the need for rest. God issued only ten commandments, yet one of them was to rest one day per week. It has been said that the Sabbath is God’s antidote to workaholism. One day every week the Israelites were commanded to put down their work, etc., and do something absolutely unique: to have a different set of activities, to spend leisure time with family and friends, to worship God, and have the opportunity to be alone and rest.
Many of us are ashamed of rest. We see it as a waste of time, but God views things differently. He sees rest as a necessary part of our spiritual, physical and mental well-being.
Now of course, today, in the New Testament church age we are no longer required to keep the Sabbath, but the principle and the need for a rest has not changed. We need sabbaths of some sort to provide us with rest that will prevent exhaustion.
A distinction should be made here between rest and recreation/entertainment. The latter involves some external stimulus to keep us occupied and get our minds off our problems (thus the cry “I need to get away”, usually means that I am going to go somewhere and be entertained by something). Genuine rest is not so much diversion as reflection. It is slowing down our outward activities so that we can evaluate and allow God to refresh our souls. It allows us to get a different perspective on life and to realize what is important.
The book of Ecclesiastes is once again helpful. Charles Ryrie, commenting on this book says, “Solomon’s solution to the paradoxes of life set forth seven times (2:24-26; 3:12,13; 3:22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 12:13,14), is to enjoy to the fullest the life that God has given, recognizing it as His gift. God has not revealed the solution to all of life’s inconsistencies, but has given man a life to enjoy while living in obedience to Him.”
It is important for the believer to realize that we cannot experience life as God desires if we have wrong priorities. For example the Scriptures place a premium on work. As believers we should not be lazy, and we should do our work as to the Lord (Ephesians 6:7). Ecclesiastes 3:13 informs us that work is a gift from God, but Jesus taught that we ought to work not just to meet our material needs but “for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). In other words, the priority of our life should not be to amass things but to become rich spiritually. If we do not have this biblical priority then we will not live to His glory in that area.
Yet, as one observer said, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.” Philippians 4:11 (“Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am”) speaks of one of the rarest of all of God’s creatures: a contented man. What made him content was that he had learned to focus on what he had, including His sufficient Lord, rather than on what he did not have.
In the form of application Christian author, Tim Hansel, suggests the following “commandments:”
Thou Shalt Live Here and Now
It has been said, “Many people spend their entire life indefinitely preparing to live.” One of the best ways to live now is to take control of life instead of allowing it to control you. Don’t procrastinate, do set goals, know where you want to go and plan how to get there. But in the meantime don’t forget that you can only live at this moment. When the future comes it will be today (see Matthew 6:23-33).
Thou Shalt Not Hurry
In our hurry we overlook what is really important; we have lost the ability to wonder. How often do you take the time to simply notice the simple beauties of nature? Study the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 58,95,96) and note how the handiwork of God drew the Psalmists to Himself.
Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself Too Seriously
While much of life is serious, many people need to recognize that the world is not going to collapse if we make a mistake, waste a little time, or wear the wrong color shoes. A good sense of humor toward much of life will go a long way. The numerous feasts of Israel are good examples of God’s desire for His people to enjoy a combination of rest, fun, fellowship and worship.
Thou Shalt Be Grateful
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Someone wrote, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” Paul was a busy man but his focus was simple, “One thing I do. . .” (Philippians 3:13).
Thou Shalt Simplify Thy Life
With so many opportunities abounding today it is no wonder that our lives are often terribly complicated. We make a mistake, however, when we believe that we have to take advantage of as many activities as possible. Instead, I believe that we would be wise to choose only a limited number of opportunities. Over one hundred years ago Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. . . Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not as a hundred or a thousand.” This is good advice, even more today than then.
Solomon tells us, “For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). In a world that has many means of draining our zest for life, all of us need good friends and close fellowship. True friends are those who are not just enjoyable to be around but who are also committed to helping us walk with Christ. We all need people with whom we can relax and be ourselves, but it must not stop there. We need friends who will help us see what is important and will encourage us to set proper goals. We need people who care that we walk with Christ and are not content with just being buddies. Such friendships make life a little sweeter.
One of the most overlooked obstacles on the pathway of Christian joy is weariness. Serving Christ is often hard, unappreciated and temporarily unrewarding work. Galatians 6:9 reads “There exists, therefore, a true and constant danger of losing heart and growing weary.”
Both losing heart and growing weary carry the idea of becoming exhausted and giving up. Many of us are just plain tired. We may feel like the people who answered an ad placed by the Hayden Planetarium in a New York City newspaper inviting those who would like to make the first journey to another planet to submit an application. Within a matter of days, over 18,000 people applied. These applications were then given to a panel of psychologists, who upon reviewing them concluded that the vast majority of those who had applied wanted to start a new life on another planet because they were so discouraged by life on this one (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p.37).
Alice in Wonderland says, “I have to run real fast just to stand in place.” We identify. We also understand Flip Wilson who said, “If I had my entire life to live over again, I don’t think I’d have the strength.”
The battle with weariness in the cause of God has always been a real danger (Job 10:1; Psalm 6:6, 68:3; and Isaiah 40:31). In both Galatians 6:9 and II Thessalonians 3:13 we are warned of a weariness that can accompany doing good and living godly. The Greek word in these verses is “ekkakeo” meaning; “To be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted.” In modern terminology we might say “burned out” or “stressed out.”
Paul tells us not to become weary but how can we prevent it? Four passages of Scripture are extremely helpful:
Galatians 6:9b “For in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”
Weariness is most often due to a faulty time-table. Like children we expect instant results and if they don’t come we get discouraged.
We give the gospel and we expect people to respond.
We teach truth and we expect compliance.
We model godly living and we expect followers. And if these things don’t happen on schedule we lose heart.
God’s promise? “In due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” God has His set times; it is not for us to know them. Indeed, we cannot know them — we must wait for them. But trusting patience is a hard commodity to come by. Do we not sometimes feel like the poet who wrote:
Lord, I know there are countless times
When I must wait patiently for You.
Waiting develops endurance.
It strengthens my faith
And deepens my dependence upon You.
I know You are Sovereign God —
Not an errand boy
Responding to the snap of my finger.
I know Your timing is neatly wrapped
In Your incomparable wisdom.
You have appointed prayer
To obtain answers!
Even David the Psalmist cried
With confident boldness:
“It is time, O Lord, for you to act.”
God, on this silent sunless morning
When I am hedged in on every side
I too cry boldly.
You are my Father, and I am Your child.
So, Lord could you hurry a little?
(Ruth Harms Calkin, Lord, Could You Hurry a Little?)
Isaiah 40:27-31 “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes my God?’ Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks light He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”
The context of this passage is the sovereignty of God. It is because our God is in control of all things that you and I can trust in Him even during difficult times. Even though we tend to grow weary and tired (verses 29,30), He does not (verse 28). And God is willing and able to supply this same stability and energy to those who meet the conditions.
What are those conditions? That we wait for the Lord. We are back to patient trust. It is not a matter of conjuring up enough power to go on. It is believing that our Sovereign Lord is in control. He has a plan and He has a time. Our job is to be faithful and trust Him to be God.
Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”
The Scriptures never minimize or attempt to disguise the fact that the Christian life is often a struggle. We live in a hostile environment, housed in rebellious flesh, surrounded by agents of the enemy. Using the metaphor of a marathon race the writer of Hebrews instructs us to run with endurance. To “endure” means “to remain under.” Rather than giving up or running away we are told to remain under the pressure of a given situation.
How is such endurance possible in light of our natural tendency to seek escape from pressure and relief from pain? It is possible only as we “fix our eyes on Jesus.” It is our focus that determines our attitude, and ultimately our actions.
As we focus on Christ rather than our struggles we note that He endured great sufferings, and He was able to do so because of the “joy set before Him.” Jesus modeled for us Isaiah 40:31 when He showed us how to live above weariness and losing heart. It was possible because He trusted in the sovereignty and goodness of the Father.
James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick,and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
The word for “sick” in James 5:14 is “astheneo” meaning “to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless.” It is found 36 times in the New Testament and the type of weakness depends upon the context. While it can mean physical sickness, it can also mean a lack of strength (I Peter 3:7); economical weakness (Acts 2:35), or spiritual weakness (Romans 6:19 and 8:26).
In James 5:15 the word for “weak” is a different word (kamno). It is only found three times in the New Testament and the other two times it is translated and means “weary” (Hebrews 12:3 and Revelation 2:3). Strongs says that “kamno” means, “To grow weary, be weary; to be sick.” Vines says, “Primarily, to work, hence, from the effects of constant work, to be weary.”
For James to choose “kamno” instead of “astheneo” in this verse suggests that he is pointing to the common accompaniment of sickness which is weariness of mind. We agree with Thomas Ice, who wrote “In the context we believe that James did not have physical but spiritual weakness in mind, since ‘kamno’ in the two other passages speaks of spiritual weariness. In addition, the entire thrust of James, and especially this last chapter, is on patience (5:7-10), and endurance (5:11). So when a believer is growing weary he is to first lean upon other mature believers and their prayers. He is to call the elders to have them pray for him. Further, if there is sin in his life, sin that entangles him and destroys his endurance, he is to confess that sin (James 5:16). The result is that he will be ‘healed.’
“Again, we find that the original Greek here is found in our other endurance passage, Hebrews 12:1-3. There we find the writer concluding His exhortation to endurance by saying, Therefore strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (verses 12 and 13). It is clear from the context that the writer is using a physical-healing figure of speech to describe what must take place in the body of Christ when a brother or sister is weary of the struggle: He must be lifted up; he must lean on the stronger Christian; he must be strengthened in his faith” (A Holy Rebellion, pp. 171-173).
The Source of Joy
It is important for us to understand that while God may give us a great many things in this life to enjoy, and that we must deal properly with the joy-killers we may encounter, nevertheless, the only source of true joy is found in our Lord. Joy, being a facet of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), is ours only when we are under the control of the Holy Spirit. Joy is one of those things that can never be obtained directly, as a result of our pursuit for it, but is an indirect benefit that comes from the power of God Himself.
Many of the Psalmists understood this well. For example, Moses in Psalm 90, after lamenting the brevity of life due to God’s wrath upon sinners, did not despair. He understood that he could choose to mourn over the hardships of life and the reality of death or he could choose to walk in wisdom. Choosing the latter he cries to the Lord, “O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us” (verses 14,15). In a world full of death and sin, sorrow and heartache, how does one hope to be “satisfied,” “joyful,” “glad.” It seems impossible, but our Psalmist is ready with the answer, “Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, and Thy majesty to their children. And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us” (verses 16,17a). As Moses examined life with a heart of wisdom (verse 12) he slowly began to understand that God was systematically removing all the props that he had been leaning upon, until finally he rested securely on God and God alone. It was when he saw God’s “work” and “majesty” and “beauty” (possible meaning of “favor” here) that he realized that only God satisfies and makes the soul glad.
David in Psalm 36 was on the same page when he wrote, “How precious is Thy lovingkindness O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Thy wings, They drink their fill of the abundance of Thy house; and Thou dost give them to drink of the rivers of their delights. For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light” (verses 7-9). These incomparable word-pictures of the joys found in our Lord are not just beautiful poetry — they are attempts to explain to us that the source of all good, of all joy, of all true life is our Lord. Joy is not found in good health, perfect children, the love of family and friend, a meaningful job or great vacations. It is found in Christ by the one who is living for His glory.
Charles Ryrie makes this summary statement concerning the book of Ecclesiastes that is a good summary of our study as well: “God has not told man how to comprehend all the frustrating futilities of life, but He has instructed man to enjoy life as His gift (2:24), to make the most of every opportunity (9:10), and to live life with reverence toward God (12:13), accompanied by an awareness of future judgment (12:14). (The book) teaches us to live with life’s paradoxes by maintaining a proper attitude toward life and God.”