The following was originally published in the March 2013 newsletter.
It was the final day of installation of the new flooring in my home. I had already covered about a thousand square feet and only a small bedroom remained. I would be finished in a matter of hours. I could count the time in hours instead of days. The end was finally in sight. For the past two weeks I had worked on the floors nearly ten hours a day, six days a week, and my body was nearly broken. My feet hurt badly. Kneeling for hours at a time meant my toes were bent in a painful position. My legs hurt from countless times of squatting to work on the floor and then standing to get supplies, cut a board, or reach for more glue. My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my back hurt, my hands hurt. My body was broken. After several weeks of work, I could hardly walk when I got out of bed in the morning.
But this day was different. It was the final day of installation. I held a cup of hot coffee in my hand as the rising sun illuminated the room. The thought that in about four hours I would be finished sent a ripple down my arm. The work was nearly complete. The end was within sight.
I gathered supplies and set to work, and then a strange thing happened. A sense of joy settled on me. I celebrated each board as it was glued to the next. My body still hurt deeply, but as I rose to take another board to the chop saw, pure joy flooded my heart. It was one of the most vivid experiences of joy I have ever known. Although all the pain was still there, it was smothered by the joy that had overtaken me.
In that moment, a Scripture verse came to my mind and I paused in the middle of the floor to contemplate the thought. A passage in Hebrews describing Jesus on the cross says a very remarkable thing. “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). Is it possible that in the midst of the crucifixion Christ experienced joy?
As I continued laying the flooring, this thought kept haunting my mind, until finally the last board was in place. I was ecstatic! My body still hurt deeply but I danced around the room in celebration of the completion of what I had set out to do. I lifted my arms and spun around the smooth floors shouting for joy. I sent a text to several friends of mine. “It is fiiiiiiiiiiinnniiiiiissshed!!!!!!!!!! :)” I wrote. The joy was overwhelming.
I had finished the work. I had completed what I had set out to do. It was finished. I sat down and took off the knee pads one final time. I took off my shoes and rubbed my weary feet. I cannot describe how good that moment felt. I was reminded once again of the verse that had come to my mind earlier. So I looked up the passage to see exactly what it said.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3, ESV).
In the past I have read this and assumed that when it spoke of “the joy that was set before him” it was referring to something in the future, as if Christ endured the cross because he knew the joy he would experience after the crucifixion and he was reunited with his Father. But that is not all this passage is saying. When it speaks of the joy being set before him, it includes the idea of a gift being laid at his feet. The object is set before you; it is given to you in that moment, for that moment. So another way to look at the phrase “for the joy that was set before him” would be to say “because of the joy that was given to him”.
I asked myself, did Christ experience pure joy in the midst of the crucifixion? Was he given joy for that moment? Did he understand he was completing the work he was placed on the earth to do? Did joy flood his heart as the hammer drove the nails into his hands? His body was beaten beyond recognition and he was weary beyond words. But in that moment, did God the Father set before him a gift of joy? When he shouted, “It is finished”, was it a moment of celebration? Was he dancing on the inside even as he was dying on the outside? I believe so.
The question then remains, does God do the same for us? Does he set before us a gift of joy in the midst of our trials? I believe he does. Consider these passages:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23b-24, ESV).
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15, ESV).
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13, ESV).
My friend, are you in the midst of a trial today? Perhaps you are weary from the fight. You are broken and hurting. The idea of joy in the midst of your pain seems impossible. I understand, but God longs to meet you in the midst of your trial and to set before you joy, to give you the gift of joy. He gives us his presence during our difficult days. As David wrote, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11, ESV). In the middle of our circumstances, he meets us with his overwhelming presence and we find joy. In spite of the pain, in spite of the trial, joy. Pure joy.
Perhaps today you simply need to ask God to give you joy in the midst of your trial “so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope”. I pray that you will. What if God is waiting for you to ask?
I’m grateful to have the floors finished. But I am even more grateful for the way the Holy Spirit ministered to me. I’m grateful for his presence. I’m grateful for his kindness to me. I’m grateful for the way he whispers his love to me throughout the day. I’m grateful for his presence in the midst of difficult times.
I’m grateful for the joy that was set before me.