The northern hemisphere is enjoying summer and all that goes with this season – ice-cream, swimming, sandals, long days and balmy nights. Summer always feels like a reward. The work that has gone into winter, autumn and spring finally pays off and we get to kick off our shoes for a little while and simply enjoy the sand between our toes.
Our life has rhythms and seasons that don’t always line up with the seasons of nature. Our winters can be happening during the warmest of days. We all have times when we endure the barren cold, wondering if the difficulties will ever subside. At times like this, I am grateful for joy.
It is not happiness. When pain is deep, happiness is not an emotion we experience. But joy … how different this is. It is a force. A gift. It is a power that strengthens our soul, giving us endurance and fortitude.
When we reap the fruit of our own bad judgment, when people spitefully use us, when circumstances turn against us, when we are shamed or blamed, it is hard to feel happy. But joy? That we can always rely on. In the middle of the harsh cold, we can move to the indoors of our soul and ask the Lord to give us strength in the form of joy.
This joy is then formed in us by the Holy Spirit, by understanding who Christ is, by the richness of the Scriptures, by the beauty in God’s creation and most certainly by the comfort of our fellow man.
During nature’s summer season, we, at Orchard: Africa, are privileged to facilitate what is commonly called “mission trips”. Believers from churches in the United States travel across the Atlantic and engage with churches in South Africa. In this process we regularly hear people comment on how happy the children in African villages seem, despite living their lives in deep poverty. A book can be written about this comment. I have space here for just one observation.
Children who live in the midst of generational poverty, surrounded by debilitating sickness, and in daily lack, experience sorrow that can produce life scars that go very deep. When a team of people from across the world spends a week with them, like any child the world over, they enjoy the attention. They laugh and play and are happy in the moment.
But abiding joy? How does this factor in?
This strength-giving force comes when their local village church can provide them with food, with education, with care, with provision and with stability. They learn through tangible ways that Jesus has not forgotten or abandoned them. When, in the winter of their little lives, Christ’s body on this earth, the Church, provides warmth in both word and deed and loves them close up and from afar, a soul healing joy sows seeds in their heart that produces deep roots of God’s kingdom.
In the midst of the winters in each of our lives, it is the reign of Christ in us that gives us fortitude and makes us whole again. After all, the kingdom of God is not merely meat and drink but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 4:17)
May we think on these things!