I say from time to time that the good life is good not because our life is good but because God is good. In other words, the good times are not defined by the circumstances around you but the God who has addressed you with His greatest treasure - His only Son. We sometimes forget this. God is always good and we do not have to see it with our eyes or experience it in an easy and comfortable life to rejoice in the goodness of this life because we have a good God.
Looking around us at a world crumbling under the weight of its own unbelief, we Christians and especially pastors often appear angry, frustrated, and ready to despair. And sometimes we are. But the reality is that we have not the burden of God laid upon us to Christianize the culture or rescue and redeem the society. Thanks be to God! Ours is the call to speak the Word of Life to people walking in the shadow of death. And in one respect, this is a great day to be the Church. For all around us are the ruins of our culture, the tattered remains of hope, and the shadow of death. Yes, it is a challenging world and one that tries our souls as servants of the Servant of God who has redeemed us. Yes, it is a frustrating dilemma that we find ourselves in as parents and children, employers and employees, neighbors and friends. But we cannot afford to forget that the cause of our joy lies not in how things are going but in the God whose mercy has loved the unlovable and redeemed those unworthy of the cost of His redemption.
This is surely what it means when St. Paul tells us that he has learned contentment in all things. He is not saying that poverty is good or want is pleasant. There is no contentment in our money or our things -- no matter how much or how little. Our contentment lies always in Christ. I find this sometimes hard to forget as I lament the way of the things around us as a community, culture, and nation. I want the world to get better -- who doesn't? But I want it to get better largely because I want my life to be easier. Perhaps you are in the same boat. We wish for a more godly culture and life because we expect it will be easier and better. It may be. But St. Paul also acknowledged that his knowledge of sin increased because of the faith. It could be that we see the problems of the world around us more acutely because we are in Christ. I suspect that I expect more from the folks in the pews and myself precisely because we claim to be in Christ by baptism and faith. So at the same time I look for a reason for hope and contentment, I see ever more clearly the disappointing picture of what sin has done to me and to those around me and the world in which we all live. Yet our hope never lay in an improving world but in the God who loves us with a redeeming love we neither deserve nor expect. This is the surprise of joy.
I do not believe that it is God's purpose or promise to make us happy. Happiness is a fickle thing and fleeting. Some of the things that I thought made me happy now I think infuriate me. If God's plan and promise are to make us happy, He has a bigger job carved out for Him than our redemption. But that does not mean we are without joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. I read that somewhere. It is not a meme or a trivial statement to be written on canvas and hung on the wall. It is God's Word. Jesus is our joy and treasure. He is our strength. He is our hope. I love that hymn and believe it should be sung far more than it is.
1 Jesus has
come and brings pleasure eternal,
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End;
Godhead, humanity, union supernal,
O great Redeemer, You come as our friend!
Heaven and earth, now proclaim this great wonder:
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal!
2 Jesus has
come! Now see bonds rent asunder!
Fetters of death now dissolve, disappear.
See Him burst through with a voice as of thunder!
He sets us free from our guilt and our fear,
Lifts us from shame to the place of His honor.
Jesus has come! Hear the roll of God’s thunder!
3 Jesus has
come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed!
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death’s fortress,
Brings forth the pris’ners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!
4 Jesus has
come as the King of all glory!
Heaven and earth, O declare His great pow’r,
Capturing hearts with the heavenly story;
Welcome Him now in this fast-fleeting hour!
Ponder His love! Take the crown He has for you!
Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory!
This is a hymn for our times and it points us to that which is true joy and pleasure in a world filled with fake joys and false treasures.