Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.—Romans 12:15
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33
It has been a heavy week. In eastern Europe, Russia has invaded Ukraine. Until recently, our church supported a missionary couple in Kyiv. Several members of our church have served there over the years, and established relationships with people who are now either fleeing for their lives, hiding in fear, or fighting for their freedom. We hear stories of their suffering, and it breaks our hearts. All we can do is pray.
The situation affects us in other ways, too. In the past week I’ve spoken with two different sets of parents in our church whose children serve in the military and are on the verge of being deployed to the conflict. They wake up each morning and their hearts are heavy. They carry a burden of anxiety with them throughout the day. And all they can do is pray.
At the same time, there is another war going on, much closer to home. All week long I have been burdened by an awareness of numerous couples whose marriages are struggling. The situations are complicated, and often at least one person involved isn’t open to receiving help from others. As a staff, we pray for these people, because there’s nothing else we can do.
In the midst of all this, I confess that I don’t always know how some of God’s promises are supposed to work. In His Word, God tells us that those who trust His Son can live with peace and joy in their hearts. He tells us that we don’t have to be afraid. I believe, and have often preached, that Christians should respond differently than non-believers to the stresses and fears of this life. But what does that look like when your child is placed in harm’s way? What do joy and peace look like then? When you hear the news of a friend’s divorce, is it possible to care deeply for them and yet not walk around under a dark cloud all day?
It must be, or God would not have said those things. Part of the answer is probably that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is when circumstances are good, and joy and peace come from within, from a settled assurance in our hearts that God is good, and loves us, and is up to something good, even if we won’t see it until Eternity. And part of the answer is probably that love and concern are not the same thing as fear. When God says “do not be afraid,” He’s not telling us to have stone hearts and stop caring about people. Being concerned for our friends and family doesn’t necessarily mean we’re giving in to fear, it means we’re paying the price of love.
But as always, the biggest part of the answer probably comes when we look to Jesus, the Son of God. What did joy and peace look like for Him? Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, for His own loss and for the grief it caused His friends. He wept over the city of Jerusalem when he thought about His own people’s stubborn lack of faith. He was frustrated with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He said he was “overwhelmed with sorrow” when He faced the reality of carrying our cross. Was he failing to trust the Father and be joyful in those times? Was He allowing circumstances to steal His peace?
I don’t think so. I think that even when He was angry or sad, there was an inner peace that nothing could touch. Whatever he was facing, Jesus never panicked. He never did anything sinful or hurtful out of fear or a desire to control things. And He never questioned the goodness or wisdom of His Father. He expressed an unwavering confidence that the Father is good and knows what He’s doing. Hebrews 12:2 says He endured the cross “for the joy set before him.” Sometimes the only source of joy is the assurance that joy is coming. As a man, Jesus was sad at times, and burdened, and angry, but His confidence in God never wavered.
Are you burdened this week? If you are, it’s not a sin. You’re just being human, like Jesus. But in your grief, I pray that you will carry hope in your heart, which is the seed of joy. In your love and concern, I pray you will not be afraid. Whether your burden is anger or sadness, I pray that the Holy Spirit will show you that you don’t have to panic, or lash out, or self-medicate, or whatever sinful reaction your flesh is prone to. I pray He will give you confidence in the goodness and wisdom of the Father, and that you will experience His peace.