This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”
- Zechariah 8:19
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
- Matthew 6:15-18
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
- Galatians 5:22-23
“But as I’ve discovered, in my own life, joy is not about your circumstances or about how you feel. It is definitely not about living in denial and ignoring sorrow or pain. Joy is something much deeper, richer, more stable, and definitely more accessible than you might have thought.”
- Kay Warren, Choose Joy
“Christ can put a spring in your step and a thrill in your heart. Optimism and cheerfulness are products of knowing Christ.”
- Billy Graham
My wife had been in the hospital for two nights. She asked, “What did you bring me to read?”
Note: She had never asked for a book to read.
I have my two-pouch quiver. One pouch is my pleasure reading. I read four books at a time: one that I am about to finish, one past half way, one well started, and one near the beginning. One of these four is some kind of inspirational book. My other quiver has my Bible, the Sunday school Bible Study Guide, and now contains another book that the church is doing as a Lenten focus (Bible studies tied into the sermons).
I thought for a second and thought that there was nothing in my quiver that I was willing to part with, but then I thought about the book I had not really started yet. I had just finished a book the night before, so I handed her Choose Joy by Kay Warren.
She glared at me. She said, “I have nothing to be joyful about right now. Look at me. I am trapped in a hospital bed that you put me in. If you had not dragged me to the doctor two days ago, he would not have sent me to the emergency room. The emergency doctor would not have decided to admit me. Now, you hand me a book on JOY?!”
I mumbled something about what Ms. Warren says in the quote above. I think that I have read similar words from Billy Graham and others regarding Joy having nothing to do with circumstances.
About that time, the food services person came back into the room to pick up her lunch tray. The lady asked my wife what she wanted for dinner and breakfast. The last thing that we wanted to hear was that the hospital had plans for her to stay – again.
After the venom that I received with my book suggestion, I quickly thought of three responses, knowing two of them were not her style.
First, she could have said that the doctor was going to release her soon and please do not jinx it by ordering supper and please no discussion of breakfast. (Sadly, not released for another day, but we were hopeful at that moment.)
Second, she could have given venom toward the lunch lady as she did me with my book selection. “I am sick and tired of your rubber chicken and mystery meat dinners! Give me something with taste in it, even if I have to chew it for hours to get it to go down!”
Third, and the one I knew she would choose, she smiled and cheerfully asked what her menu options were. The lunch lady mentioned two things for each meal that sounded good, but once the kitchen staff saw diabetic and heart patient, it would not taste like what you imagine when you hear that group of words. She cheerfully made her selections. She made no special requests, and she thanked the lunch lady. My wife had chosen Joy.
My wife was having a four day fast. Not voluntarily, but she took the challenge cheerfully among the public. Only God and I knew how she really felt. The first two Scriptures talk of just that. The concept of putting oil on your face in the Old Testament often refers to perfume. In other words, you are looking fancy. We fast so that we can focus on worshipping God instead of meeting our own desires, a rearranging of priorities. By making the “Woe is me” dramatic entrance, it spoils what this is about. It is not about us, it is about worshipping God, which ought to be cheerful. After all, God loves us.
Yet, where does Joy come from? The third Scripture lists Joy right behind love in Paul’s list of Spiritual Fruit. It is second on the list. Pretty important, but Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit. Ms. Warren talks in her preface that it cannot be manufactured. Being sad and going to Disney World, is just being sad at Disney World (to some extent). At least, once you get back home, the low will be lower, for you are no longer at Disney World and the memories are fresh. Because you were sad when you were there, you opted out of some of the activities that you might consider fun if you felt better.
No, we can only get that inner Joy from the Holy Spirit. It comes when we truly believe and trust in Jesus. We then know that all the problems in life are merely bumps in the road.
As my wife was complaining about being a prisoner in the hospital, I felt that she had a right to think so. Each day, it was the doctor’s flip of a coin, giving us false hope.
Actually, I was thinking about Joy in time of sorrow. The book choice helped. I knew that she was in good hands. If it was her time to pass on, the nurses would not be able to stop it, but my wife would be in a place of endless Joy. Yet, I was feeling selfish. I was praying for her to stay with me. Thus, I knew that we both had Jesus in our hearts, and nothing could separate us from His love. The pain was temporary. We would survive this ordeal. Influenza, the flu, is a nasty way to live for a week, but it rarely lasts past a week. My wife is proving that statement wrong, but she will have a day soon when she doesn’t try to cough her lungs inside out.
I then felt a little more selfishness. I thought she should feel happy that she did not have to drag a fever near one hundred to the car (having the flu, just not the heart condition), after doing laundry in the early morning, and drive to the hospital where all your medicine was back home and the hospital has no medicine for visitors, not even an aspirin. (I fixed that the next day – Ibuprofen at the ready.)
Maybe I used too many words to paint the picture. Do you have pain? Yes, but that does not negate God’s love. In fact, it reminds you that God has prepared a place for you. He likens that place to a mansion. Do you have loss? Yes, but God promises us all that we need and when we die, we will not take anything with us.
Do we weep? Do we lament? Yes, and Jesus wept also, but Jesus also embraced the little children who came to Him. He had to be cheerful for that.
Do we need a smile on our faces all the time? No, but the lunch lady had one less surly patient to deal with when she came to my wife’s room.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.