Tagged ‘Romans‘

When God uses my sin for good

Do you ever rehearse some past sin in your life, replaying in your mind what you said or did, wishing you could go back and make a better decision than the one that led you into sin? I have. My goodness, I have blown it so many times. But did you know that God can use even your past failures for good? It’s true. A few days ago I was reading one of Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and a statement he made in this regard really stood out to me.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite biblical characters. I appreciate the way he acknowledges his past while focusing on his future. Again and again he writes about the wonder of understanding the grace he has been given for his past sin. Remember, he was the one who had persecuted the early believers. He was responsible for imprisoning many followers of Christ. Many died as a result of his actions. To carry the thought of that sin surely must have been a heavy burden to him. Yet he had been forgiven and set apart by God to carry the message of forgiveness to others who also needed forgiveness for sin.

This is the beauty of the gospel. God’s grace gives us forgiveness for our sin. Then, when we are aware of the forgiveness that we have received, we want others to know that they can be forgiven as well. Those who have been set free from the bondage of sin want others to be free as well.

One of the ways our enemy tries to silence us is by reminding us of sin we have committed in the past. Our focus is on the shame we feel from the sin we have committed. But when our focus shifts to the wonder of God’s grace and mercy, then we view our sin in a whole new light. The focus shifts from what I have done to what God has done. It is God’s grace and kindness to me that overwhelms me. His faithfulness humbles me when I consider my unfaithfulness to him. Always I am in the debtor’s corner.

But here is the amazing part. God redeems our sin and uses it for good. How can this be? How can God take the sin I have chosen in my past and use it for good? He does this in a couple of ways.

First, he uses my sin to help conform me into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV). God’s idea of all things working for good is not for my comfort, but for my conformity. When I am in a relationship with him, learning to love him more and more, he will use everything in my life to help conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. That means even the sin I have done in my past can be used to help me look a little more like the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, it is the awareness of the sin I have done that keeps me humble before God. God has given me great grace in forgiving me of my sin. God gives me this grace, not because I deserve it, but because it is his character to do so. It is part of who he is. Therefore, when I am aware of the grace I have been given, even though I do not deserve it, then I can give grace to others who also don’t deserve it. When I do that, I become a little more like Christ. I am being conformed to his image. In this way, God uses my past sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. What a powerful thought.

But not only does God use my sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ, he also uses my past to encourage others in the body that may be caught in sin today. Through my example and the evidence of God’s grace in my life, others will come to understand that they can be forgiven as well.

Paul wrote about this idea in his letter to his dear friend and fellow servant, Timothy. This is the phrase that really stood out to me as I was reading the other day. “The saying is trustworthy,” he wrote, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Please don’t gloss over those words! This is important stuff! Paul says that even though he was the worst of sinners, he received mercy so that his life could be an example of the patience of God in drawing all men unto himself for salvation. What hope! What encouragement for those of us who have also blown it, who know the grace of God and forgiveness for sin. Your past failure does not have to be for naught. God wants you to know that your life is a testimony of the grace of God. Again, the enemy wants you to focus on your shame; God wants the focus to be on himself and his grace. The focus is on God’s ability to forgive, not my ability to sin. When we understand this, then even our past failures can be used for good. Imagine that!

Friend, perhaps today the enemy is haunting you with some sin that you committed in the past. You know you have been forgiven, but the reminder of that sin has kept you in the bondage of shame. Today, God is speaking to you. He wants you to know that he can even use your past sin for his glory. You are a testimony of the grace of God! How wonderful to know that God can use my failures to show how great he is.

Paul wrote, “for those who love God, all things work together for good.” Yes, my friend, God can even use your past sin to work together for good. God can use it to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, and he can use it to encourage others who have sinned as well. Today, keep your focus on the one who forgives, not on your past. Like Paul, you also have been forgiven and set apart by God to be an example of God’s grace and to carry that message of forgiveness to others who also need forgiveness for sin.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 Newsletter.

When God doesn’t give you what you want

The writing sabbatical is officially over. It will likely go down as one of the worst sabbaticals of all time! I laugh as I write this, but it is true. If I were to do one thing differently, it would be to find a place far from home to stay. I didn’t realize how involved I was in ministry on the home front. So while I did not fly anywhere for ministry events, they were showing up at my front door! It was quite interesting at times. I have no regrets, but it definitely was not as productive and restful as I had hoped. In fact, it was far from it. However, while the sabbatical was not at all what I expected it to be, in many ways it was better.

If I learned one lesson as a result of this time, it is this: God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what is best.

Jesus sat and taught the people who were gathered around him. Using the image of a father and child, he explained how God relates to us. Consider what he said:

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11, ESV).

In this passage, Jesus taught us that God is not a mean God. He doesn’t play tricks on us. Just as you would never play a mean trick on your child, God would never play a mean trick on you. This passage is not teaching that he will give us anything we ask for, but it does show that when I come to him and ask him for something, I can expect that whatever he gives me is a result of the love he has for me. If his answer is “no,” it is because he loves me. If his answer is “not now,” it is because he loves me. If he gives me something different, it is because he loves me and has something better in mind for me.

This is crucial to understand when we face disappointment. Some of you right now are facing circumstances that are not working out the way you thought they would. You’ve cried out to God for relief. You’ve waited in anticipation for him to intercede, but the trial only grew worse. In those moments of desperation, we need to understand that God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what is best, and sometimes his best comes through difficulty and pain.

Last fall I welcomed the time off the road. I was looking forward to spending more time writing and hoped to complete the manuscript for the new book, but my plans are not always the same as God’s plans. In this case, God certainly had other plans, better plans, actually. God did give me rest from the pressure of being on the road, but the book remains unfinished. So much of what I had hoped to accomplish fell along the wayside. My schedule was jammed full of home-church related meetings and personal ministry activities. I can either feel sorry for myself or relish all that God did in my life during those days. So I choose to focus on the blessings that have come from this time.

I simply wanted a break from the pressures of travel and ministry and to finish the book project, but God wanted to give me something better. Unfortunately, for me that meant times of trial and difficulty, physical issues, ministry problems, etc. But through these difficulties, I watched him clarify my sense of mission and vision for the coming days. I learned important lessons about weaknesses in my personality that can inhibit me from fulfilling the call of God on my life. I saw him profoundly change me at a heart level, renewing my mind, and renewing my passion for ministry. Over and over I witnessed his providing, prodding, going deeper in relationship with himself. So does it matter to me that I didn’t get what I wanted? Not in the least! I’ll gladly keep what he gave me instead. It was so much better!

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote these words:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29a, ESV).

I can see how God has used this time for good in my life, even though many of the days were very difficult, but I want you to notice the clause at the beginning of the sentence Paul wrote. He says that this idea of all things working together for good is for those who love God. This promise is not for the man or woman who is simply religious and attends church. Instead, this promise is for the one who is in a love relationship with God. For those who refuse to focus on loving God, there is no promise here. This is another example of why I continue to preach the fundamentals of loving God and loving others. It matters. For me, during the days of sabbatical, I chose to focus on my relationship with God. When nothing made sense, I just crawled up in his lap and let him hold me for awhile. In the end, I found profound changes in my life as he molded me more into the image of Jesus Christ. All I wanted was rest, but because he loves me, God gave me what was best. At the end of the six months, I believe I look a little bit more like the person of Jesus Christ.

Last month in the devotional I wrote about the idea that God always gives his very best. But what we don’t always understand is that sometimes his best involves great trial, pain, or difficulty. That is because God often uses trials to mold us more into the image of Christ. It is because he loves us that he does not leave us where we are. God’s best for my life always involves conforming me to the person of Jesus Christ. In God’s view, all things working together for good means conformity, not comfort. This is difficult to grasp, but vital that we understand.

In another letter, Paul wrote this:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:7-14, ESV)

I read those words this morning as I was preparing to write this article. It struck me that his sole focus was to become more like Christ. It was an ongoing process of losing so that in the end he could gain Christ. How profound! We always try to avoid losing, but in doing so we often miss what we could gain.

Let us all then, like Paul, choose to forget what is behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Remember, he doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what is best.

This article was originally published in the June 2014 Newsletter.

Finding strength through weakness

Most of you know I began a writing sabbatical back in November of last year. I was excited to have the time to work on the book that I believe God has led me to write. I was hopeful I could finish the book and get some rest as well. Over the past couple of years I have grown weary of being on the road, and the time at home seemed like a welcome respite. What has surprised me is how difficult it has been to find the creative space to write, and how I still feel worn out after four months off the road. This morning I was talking with God about all of it, and I want to share with you what I believe he is sharing with me.

I think I am beginning to understand how weak I really am, and that is a very good thing. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain.

I finished the rough draft of the book around the end of January. I was encouraged by the progress I had made. But then the distractions began to pile up, and I have been unable to finish the first rewrite. I have put off taking care of some physical issues. Now I am juggling doctor appointments and physical therapy appointments, working through several problems at the same time. At the same time, my Florida home has been a bed and breakfast with family and friends coming and going. I am also an Elder in my home church, and during the time that I have been on sabbatical, God led our church to permanently join forces with another great church in the area – an exciting move of God for sure, but an area that has required a great deal of work and focus. I also love my neighbors, and since I have been home it seems the needs around me have grown. At one point I even took in a homeless, elderly, widow lady who had been evicted from her home. I moved all of her possessions into my garage. She spent one night sleeping on my couch, and then I was able to find a Christian organization that would care for her. As I write this, her belongings are still stacked to the ceiling in my garage. What I thought was going to be a restful sabbatical has been exhausting. And always in the background, I hear this voice in my head telling me I am a failure for not finishing the book.

Which leads me to this morning. As the morning sun began to lighten the sky, I sat in my chair overlooking the back yard with a cup of coffee in hand and talked with God.

“God,” I said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like such a failure. I guess I thought I could do this thing, this book project, and I am beginning to see how weak I really am. I just can’t seem to get it finished.”

In the stillness of that moment, God spoke to my spirit. “Tim, I never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish my will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that my power is revealed in you. My power is made perfect in weakness, not strength.”

I was reminded of Paul’s words in the second letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. God had used Paul in powerful ways. But in his physical life, he was struggling. Three times he pleaded with God for healing, but each time the answer was “No.” In the end, this is what Paul had to say about being weak:

“But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV).

Paul was content with being weak. He realized that the grace of God was sufficient for his moment of weakness. He understood that the power of God was displayed in his weaknesses, not his strengths. I am beginning to understand the same thing.

Here, then, is the challenge. When I see God at work in my life, I tend to think, “Wow, this is exciting! Look what God is doing. This is what I was created to do. This is my place in the body of Christ. I’m going to serve God and use the abilities he has given me for the sake of the kingdom.” And then, because I am a type-A personality, I go for it, giving all I can for the kingdom of God. Sounds great. But is this really what God intended? I’m not so sure.

God gives each of us abilities and expects us to use those abilities for the kingdom of God. But he is the power that enables those abilities to be used. He is the hand. I am simply the glove. We don’t have the power in ourselves to do anything for the cause of Christ. He alone is our strength. I needed to be reminded of that truth today.

I do believe God will help me to finish the book when it is time. But I also know that God wants me to understand how weak I really am. Oddly enough, there is a peace that comes when I understand I cannot accomplish the work of God through my human effort. I am pitifully weak. But God is powerful beyond my comprehension. Because I believe he is in control of every event that comes into my life, I believe he has orchestrated these past few weeks and months to bring me to this understanding. Once I understand that being weak is really what God prefers, I can let go of the desire to be strong for him. I can also let go of the self-condemning voice that whispers, “You’re a failure.” After all, it is in the failing that I realize how weak I really am. And that, my friends, is actually a very good place to be. I find strength when I understand my weakness.

Friend, where are you at in your relationship with God today? Are you weak? God understands. It may be that he is bringing you to the understanding that his power is revealed in your weakness. Can you be content with that? I pray that you will. Consider these verses:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV).

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10, ESV).

As you read these words today, you may find yourself in a place where you feel helpless to do anything. Your weakness is staring you in the face and mocking you with reminders of your personal failures. In the stillness, you’ve reached a point where you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you need to have a talk with God over a cup of coffee. May I suggest a simple prayer for you?

“God, today I am weary. I am weak. I don’t know what to do. But I believe you understand my weakness. I believe you have orchestrated the circumstances of my life to bring me to this place. I come to you today in my weakness asking that you would help me to be content in you alone. Your grace is enough for me. I will rest in that understanding today.”

Friend, God never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish his will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that his power is revealed in you. His power is revealed in your weakness, not strength. My prayer is that someday we would all be able to say with Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses.”

He is the hand. I am simply the glove. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This article was originally published in the April 2014 Newsletter.

Sitting at the Feet of the Master

This article was originally published in the June 2013 Newsletter.

I was six years old when my parents brought home a tiny puppy for our family. It was a Norwegian Elkhound – German Shepherd mix. I loved that dog. He was a dog for the entire family but I viewed him as my own. For the next 14 years he was my companion and closest friend, my confidant when times were difficult, and my playmate when times were good. We kept him in the back yard of our house, next to the small barn, on a chain that gave him plenty of length to run. He was quick and smart and could kill birds even while on the chain. His name was Shawn.

I would take him for walks down our shady tree-lined street. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he would take me for a walk, constantly pulling on the leash, dragging me down the sidewalk as he bounded along, nose to the ground, sniffing and occasionally stopping to do his business. This pause would give me just a moment to catch my breath before he was hauling me along again. He loved to run.

It was rare that I would allow him to be off the chain without being on the leash. I simply had not trained him well enough. But whether he was on the chain or the leash, I would often kneel beside him and he would sit at my feet, his eyes watching my every movement. I loved to wrap my arms around him and occasionally he would lean in to lick my face. He loved to be near his master. I missed him dearly when I left for college and I will never forget when I returned home the following summer how he bounded at the sound of my voice as I shouted his name across the yard.

Occasionally he would get off his chain without being on the leash. He would trot to the end of the grass where the chain normally confined him, testing the limits. Then, realizing he was free, he would bolt. He would run to exhaustion. There was no way to catch up with him. I would shout his name as I ran after him but I could never catch up. I could only hope he would eventually find his way home. Thankfully, he always did. The longest he was gone was for a couple of days. He came back looking haggard but quickly settled in back at my feet. No matter how far he ran, I always welcomed him home.

I thought about these memories of Shawn recently when I found myself in a similar position.

I use a software program called Covenant Eyes to give me accountability for what I look at online. The program is excellent. It does not stop me from surfing the web or looking up anything on the internet. But every month it sends an email to my accountability buddy listing all the sites I have visited and flagging anything that is even remotely impure to the top of the list. It keeps me accountable for what I look at online. I want to live a pure life before God. This software helps me to do that. I highly recommend the program. It’s like having a friend looking over your shoulder the entire time you are online. I’ve used it for years to great success and am an accountability buddy for many friends.

The other day, for some reason, my laptop started acting strangely. My internet connection seemed to be on and off. Some pages would load, others would not. Some programs just locked up. It was a mess. I tried rebooting the router. I tried restoring the operating system to a previous restore point. I tried everything I could think of. As a last resort, I knew I needed to try uninstalling the Covenant Eyes software to see if that was causing the issues. So for the first time in a very long time, I got the uninstall code from the Covenant Eyes website, which then notified my accountability buddy that I initiated the code. Then I uninstalled the software and ran a test to see if the software was causing the problem. The computer worked like new. There was clearly a glitch with the software.

I tried installing a fresh copy of the software but the original problems came back with force. So I uninstalled the package a second time and sat for a moment trying to figure out what to do.

In that moment, in that tiny moment, I realized the chain had just slipped off my collar. Without the software, I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would know the difference. I took the first tentative steps toward the end of the security I had lived in for the past 10 years. I began to think, “I could go to such-and-such site. It is not that bad but it would probably flag on a report. Since I don’t have the software installed, why not just go to that site and see what’s out there?”

I took a few steps in the worst possible direction feeling the rush of freedom flooding over me. Adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I wanted to RUN! Everything within me shouted, “RUN!” I hesitated, considering the options, and stopped dead in my tracks.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to the man I used to be. I couldn’t run away like I used to. But I am ashamed that I even took the first few steps. And the fact that I deeply wanted to run was like a kick in the gut to me. I felt like a failure and I could hear my enemy mocking me, taunting me, laughing at my miserable state.

Thankfully, in the moment when I wanted to run wild, I heard my Master’s voice booming out my name. I stopped and turned and looked him directly in the eyes. I saw the love he has for me, the time we spend together, the richness of relationship I enjoy with him, and I knew I did not want to run away from him. I’ve changed through the years. I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God. And I’m just not willing to give all of that up for the sake of a run around the neighborhood. It is just not worth it!

I ran back to my Master and sat back down at his feet, looking up into his kind face. He reached down, wrapped his thick arms around me and held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart beating next to mine. It was love, just pure love. It was where I was meant to be, just sitting at my Master’s feet, relishing the relationship I have with God.

Friend, where are you at in your personal relationship with God? Do you love him with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength? God longs for that kind of relationship with you. Do you have that kind of love relationship with him? I hope you do, because at some point, that relationship may be the one thing that keeps you from straying from the path God intended for you. This is another reason why love matters.

It will be the moment you feel tempted to say negative things about someone or even about yourself, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment pride begins to creep in from some experience of success, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment you are tempted to give up hope, wondering why God hasn’t healed, and the voice in your heart will say “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” The richness of relationship with God will be the determining factor. The reminder of how good it feels to sit at his feet and look longingly into his face will keep you from going where you do not need to go. For some of you, it will be the moment, like me, when you are tempted down a path of impurity, and God will say to you, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.”

But what if, like me, there have been times when you actually ran wild and ran hard? Yes, I said, “like me.” There have been times in my past when I chose to run wild. But my friend, no matter how far you may run, God will always welcome you back. God will never condemn you for turning back to him, for returning to his feet. Yes, there are consequences, many times very difficult consequences, for our sin. But when we turn and run back to him, he is quick to forgive.

Consider these verses:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).

God understands my tendency to want to run away from him, but he also gives me a desire to run back to him instead. I’m grateful that he doesn’t sneer at me when I am tempted to run away, but instead lovingly speaks my name, calling me back to himself. And I love the way he embraces me when the enemy tries to make me feel like a failure. This, my friend, is why love matters. This is why you need a real relationship with him, for just these kinds of moments.

My dog Shawn died on my twentieth birthday. I went to my room, buried my face in a pillow, and cried like a child. I still miss that dog. But many years ago that mixed-breed dog taught me lessons that help me understand my relationship with God today.

It is better to sit at the feet of your Master than to run where you don’t belong.

For the Joy Set Before You

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.