Joy in the Journey

Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
O my soul, you have said to the LORD, 
“You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.”

I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
my heart also instructs me in night seasons.
I have set the LORD always before me; 
because He is at my right hand, 
I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
my flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
in Your presence is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

A week ago, I quit a job I dearly loved. You may ask why I would do such a thing, but to be honest, I am asking the same thing, so I don’t have a clean cut answer for you.

I have never felt so loved and fulfilled in a full time position anywhere else I have worked. I never felt such purpose or certainty in what I was doing.
But within recent months, it became clear that something I dearly loved was interfering with Someone I love more, and so I had to make a decision that I am still crying over.
Please don’t think I’m writing about this to ‘flaunt’ my faith in the Lord or to make myself sound so courageous for giving up something that had become so dear to my heart. I’m writing about it because it freaking sucks and, like I said, there hasn’t been a day since the decision was made that my heart hasn’t felt like it’s being wrung out or that I haven’t ugly cried at least once…

But I am trying to record this journey because, despite how heart wrenching it is, I have to believe the Lord is doing something through it. I have to trust that this is for my good as well as for the good of the students, the faculty, and the school I left behind. I have had to pray a lot more in the past week for strength to cling to the Lord’s promises and the truth that He is faithful. I have had to spend sleepless hours in the night asking God to remind me of His goodness. And I have had to come to grips with the fact that I am still so very far from rightly reflecting the image of my Savior and I still have a long way to go before I will look anything like Him.

Being a fallen and broken human being gets old fast. I am realizing more with each passing day that I am only growing weaker and more frail as times goes on. As one theologian I know often reminded me in my college years: “The Christian life is one of growing dependence on God, not growing independence from God.”
I often live as though the latter were true. However, the reality of my fainting flesh makes it impossible for me to continue on as though I could exist apart from my Maker. What the Psalmist writes in chapter 73:25-26 resonates with my soul:

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
These are words I have to cling to right now. These are words I hope to cling to for the rest of my life. It is God who upholds and sustains my life and afterward will receive me into glory. It is God whose image I am being changed into (2 Cor. 3:18). It is God who is working in the midst of this broken mess to make it good (Rom. 8:28-30). And it is God who will complete His work and bring me safely home (Phil. 1:6, Ps. 138:8).

Over and over again, it goes back to God. I can’t escape Him. I can’t outrun Him. I can’t outsin His grace. Time and time again, I have tried. Sometimes unwittingly, but often times intentionally. I have sought to run from the very One who has breathed life where there was no life. I have cursed the One who brought my soul out of Sheol. But God, in His infinite mercy and grace, hasn’t stopped pursuing me. He hasn’t stopped showing me that Jesus is the greatest source of joy and that my ultimate hope and satisfaction will only be found in Him. I wish it would click. I wish my heart would swim in the ocean of grace He has provided. But I resist. I make excuses. I seek to drink from other wells though they are dry or filled with tainted, poisoned waters. Why do I do the things I do? Why do I forsake the only One who has never forsaken me? It is truly only by His grace that I have not met my own demise.

Someone told me recently that they see how the Lord is pursuing me through the midst of so much darkness and hard circumstances. That blew me away and humbled me a lot because I have been acting like I’m the one pursuing Him. How often do I give myself so much more credit than I deserve? That I would think I am the one in the right when the only other party involved is the God of all the universe? There seems to be no end to my arrogance and pride. I long for the day when all of my fallen thoughts and desires will be eternally redeemed in the overwhelmingly glorious light of my Savior because I am only learning with each new day that I am increasingly more vile than I ever could have thought.

If you’re reading this right now and wondering how it relates to joy, let me try to tie it all together.
A sermon I listened to recently made the point that God’s goodness is seen as all the more good when it is held up to the infinitely black backdrop of man’s sin.
Maybe someone reading this thinks I’m being hard on myself or a little too extreme about my own sin nature, but it is a cold hard fact that I become more vile each day I live because I increase the sin that has to be paid for and forgiven by the blood Jesus shed when He died on the cross. Thankfully, where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. That’s the bottom line here. Where I have sinned and increased in rebellion and depravity, the love and grace of Jesus have abounded and triumphed over the magnitude of my sin.

Something else someone recently said to me that I found encouraging and helpful was “we must close our eyes to the circumstances of the world and open them to Christ.” That has become my daily prayer: that God would close my eyes to all the things that seem to be wrong and the circumstances that seem to impossible to overcome and open my eyes to the One who has overcome everything including death. The ultimate reality that I must seek to cling to is that I am redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus. There isn’t a greater hope or truth to cling to. One morning this week, I awoke and immediately felt discouraged and overwhelmed. The thought came to mind and I had to repeat it to myself over and over again: “Christ is your hope.” This is an earth shattering truth. This is a rock solid reality. This is what my soul must continue to declare in the midst of its dark night. Christ is my hope of salvation. Not only in this life, but in all of eternity.

I don’t know that my heart and soul have ever been in such agony; I don’t know that it has ever felt so difficult to love and trust the Lord. But I do know that, when I reflect on previous seasons of heartache and darkness, I see a thread of faithfulness woven throughout the tapestry of the story God has written through the good and the bad not only in my life, but also in the lives of so many other saints. He’s a good God. And He has given me reason to trust and believe that I will see His goodness in the land of the living. Throughout the years, He has been faithful to renew and restore my life and to remind me that Jesus is the greatest source of joy I can find in this life. There’s not a better well to run to. There’s nothing more beautiful to look to or anything more worthy of my affection.

I must continue to return to the shadow of the cross and ask that I be hidden there. This is my joy: that Jesus delights in me and died to save me to reconcile me to God. This is my hope: that God, in His infinite mercy and grace continues to pursue me despite my wavering and holds me securely in His hand. And this is my life: Christ’s blood shed on my behalf so that death will never have victory over my soul.

You will show me the path of life;
in Your presence is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

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