Here I raise my Ebenezer;I've just returned from three weeks of teaching English in China. Three whole weeks spent proving God faithful to his promises, from the little things to the big. The best time, spiritually speaking, was when I'd to prepare some devotional material for a morning thought to start the day. At the beginning of the day, my jet lag was worse than ever, but I knew that I could rely on him in whom I can do all things. The jet lag disappeared as I stepped into the college, and I was wide awake for lessons. As I left the college, the tiredness returned; the Lord gave exactly all that I needed that day.
"Hither by Thy help I've come."
(Come Thou fount of every blessing, R Robinson)
But after lunch, I knew that I should prepare the devotions that day, despite there being four more days before I needed to lead the session. The teaching schedule had been themed according to the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22, and so the morning devotions frequently focussed on the day's theme. The theme for my day was joy, and I realised that it was particularly appropriate, as despite feeling absolutely exhausted, I was joyful.
I prayed for the Lord's hand in what I was about to read, and started work. He had already been guiding my thinking as I'd be mulling this over previously, but I'd not got very far; all I really had was a vague idea of the direction my hike would begin, and the shape of my thoughts. But no passages, no idea of a linking theme or anything of the sort. So I thought about verses to do with joy, and the only thing I could focus on, to start with, was Hebrews 12:2: Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)
So I studied the passage and moved on. What about our joy? A little bit of stumbling around on a computerised Bible reminded me of the verse "therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." (Is. 51:11, AV) This verse, as I realised without really realising it, has a twin in Is. 52:9: "Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem."
And I'd already looked in a little detail at this passage, Is. 51-2. An alert reader will realise that the centre of the passage is the Cross, which gave the precise link I was looking for! Cross-centred joy, the very idea I was vaguely groping for, was the precise idea the Lord was bringing out of my studies. And it was truly him, because all the way through, I was realising the next step only just before I took it. I wasn't trying to prove a point, nor was I faithfully following a rigorous Scriptural study: the Lord was simply guiding me to the places I needed to go, and lighting each step of the way only once my foot was already moving towards it. I cannot explain it any more than to say that the Lord was revealing in a special way what he immediately proved from Scripture.
Additionally, he put into mind the hymn "The head that once was crowned with thorns", wherein Kelly describes precisely all the points I wanted to make about our joy and how it flows from the Cross. He showed me the applications, and showed me how to arrange all the material. In short, when someone afterwards thanked me my encouraging words, I could say no more than "they aren't my words, and they aren't my thoughts".
The whole experience remains an encouragement to me, marking a point where I knew the reality of the Lord's guidance and, yes, continuing revelation of himself with a force that I had never before experienced.
Cross-centred joy: an outline
Read Hebrews 12:2.
1a. What is the joy of Jesus? To glorify the Father and the Spirit; to save the lost and perishing; and to triumph over death and hell.
1b. How is this joy achieved? By enduring the Cross, scorning its shame.
And so we see that Jesus' joy is achieved by his suffering, turning the wisdom of the world on its head as he brings joy from the most joyless situation conceivable.
Read Isaiah 51:11, 52:9.
2a. What is our joy? To proclaim the highest glory of God, who made us, bought us and sustains us; to see others brought under the same gracious rule of our Master; and to see, one glorious day, the face of the one who loves us as he comes to renew the Earth and reign on it forever.
Read "The head that once was crowned with thorns".
2b. How is this joy achieved? All this is made certain by the patient, faithful, loving endurance of Jesus through the shame and suffering of the Cross.
3. What then should we do? Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the source and object of our joy; let us rejoice in our own sufferings, for as much as we share in his sufferings now, we shall share in his joy soon (1 Pet. 4:13); and let us practise for our joyful entry into Zion in song, by singing now...