Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Psalm 16:5-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
The psalmist says, in prayer and song, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.” We say it in the creed we most often use in our worship service: “God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.” And what does the psalmist experience because of God’s presence? Fullness of joy.
Samuel M. Shoemaker said, “The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.”
Jesus’ ministry was so marked by joy that removing the joyful aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings would shorten the gospels.
Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God in the language of joy: as a feast or a wedding or a pearl of great value or a buried treasure.
The gospel of Luke would be thin indeed if you took out all the references to feasts, banquets, celebrations, and parties. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love . . . I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.”
It’s important that we realize that Joy is not the same as happiness, however. The astounding thing about joy is that it is not dependent on what is going on around us. It is different in this way from happiness. The difference is that happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Happiness comes from the old English word ‘happ’, which literally means “chance”. It suggests that if things happen the way we want them to happen, then we are happy. Joy, on the other hand does not come because something is happening or not happening, but arises from our faith within.
I like what Gil Ferrell said about joy: “Joy and happiness may sometimes dress alike, but they are not twins. Sometimes I wonder if they are even kin; I think they come from different parents. You can plan for happiness, anticipate it, often achieve it. Joy is unpredictable.”
Paul said that joy was an aspect of the “Fruit of the Spirit,” the fruit born in the lives of people who “walk in the spirit”—who live their lives fully aware of the presence of God. What Paul is saying to us is that Joy is something that comes from within, it is something generated in us by the Holy Spirit as we draw strength from our relationship with God. When Paul cataloged the fruit of the Spirit, he chose his words carefully. The Greek word Paul used that we translate “joy” is the word chara. It is from the same family of words as that beautiful word, charis, “grace.” Charis, grace, is the basis for our Christian life. It is by charis that we experience chara. The joy in our lives comes because of grace.
It’s because chara is based on charis, joy is based on God’s grace in Christ, not on what is happening around us or to us, that we can understand Paul writing in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. And I say again rejoice.” Note carefully what Paul says; not ‘rejoice for everything.’ There is no pleasure in sickness, or job loss, or family tension. There is no pleasure in knowing a loved one is dying. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” It’s not the outward circumstances that determine this rejoicing. It is our inner relationship with God. We rejoice “in God”. It is the relationship with God that gives us pleasure and strength even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Author Ann Douglas Sedgwick died in 1935 after a lengthy illness. Near the end of her life, the nature of her illness was terrible. She could not breathe unless she was lying down and she could not eat unless she was sitting up. Yet, in that terrible plight, she said this, “Life is difficult and yet life is mine and it is beautiful to me. There is joy in knowing that I lie in the hand of God.”
In Romans 5 Paul writes that we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” It is our knowledge and experience of the presence of God that gives us joy, as it did the psalmist.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster