Experiencing Joy in the Midst of Suffering

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Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NET Bible)

One of my favorite things about my relationship with the Lord is the JOY that He gives me; the joy that I feel coursing through my veins; joy that is palpable and evident and real.  It is His joy and I am so thankful to Him that He shares it with me.

I appreciate it so much more when it is felt during times of difficulty, pain and suffering.  At times like this, His joy makes me want to rejoice! 😄

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NASB)

I am reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, in which Corrie eloquently describes the dual-existence of joy in the midst of suffering.  In this true story that is a “must-read,” you’ll learn that Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their elderly father were all arrested and sent to prison for hiding a group of Jewish people in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Soon after their father’s untimely death, Corrie and Betsie spent time in the notorious women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck.

“Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.”  ― Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom

Such a marvelous book! ❤️😁

The Ten Boom family could see the true light in the midst of this dark world.  And as their brothers and sisters, as Jesus followers, as believers in the gospel of grace, we also know the truth!

The truth has set us free, and yet we are stuck on this earth temporarily.  So, while we are here, let’s be patient; let’s hang in there; let’s not give up.

We all have pain, we all have suffering, and we all have difficulties to varying degrees.  But we also have hope.  Not only the hope of our future life in heaven, but the hope that is alive for us today:  the kingdom of God in our very hearts.  A hope with promise; that when we have persevered through tribulations, God will use the pain we have endured to reveal more of His love to us!

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NASB)

Do Christians need to “take every thought captive”?

While visiting a Christian counseling ministry last month, I skimmed through one of their booklets.  The author mentioned his thought life, and the way he reacts when he catches himself thinking pessimistically.  He urged his reader to do likewise.  “We must take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ,” he commanded, “or else we will be guilty of having a weak mind.”

He went on to discuss the various verses in the Bible that urge us to think about things that are true and praiseworthy – excellent advice to be sure – but, it was that phrase, “take every thought captive,” that remained in my mind for days to come.

Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ? Really?  Because in reality, it would be maddening to pause and pay attention to every single one of the thoughts that race through your brain.  I do not think that a Christian should or even possibly could accomplish such a feat.

Those who disagree with me will say, “but this verse is in the Bible!”  . . . Okay.  But where, and in what context?

The verse is found in 2 Corinthians 10 verse 5.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Does this section in Corinthians have anything to do with a person’s thought life?  No.  Paul is describing the spiritual warfare he is involved in, and how he is working to “capture” every false teaching and “make it obedient to Christ.”  In case it has been a while since you have read that section, here it is:

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.  (2 Corinthians 10:1-11)

Christian leaders pull the phrase “take every thought captive” completely out of context and they turn it into a command.  That command becomes a law, and law leads to sin. Since this ‘law’ is impossible to obey, the Christian has now become a law-breaker, a sinner, and is left feeling even more miserable than before.

“…the power of sin is the law.”  1 Cor 15:56

And law-breakers feel ashamed, so now the person trying to obey this principle has been driven away from what they really need to help them overcome sin – they have been driven away from the love and acceptance of their God.  Right?  ‘Cause they assume God is ashamed of them!  Not only is that NOT true, it is the exact thing that Paul was fighting against.  (I’ll expand on that in Part 2 of this message which I’ll post in a week or two.)

Going back to 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the phrase “taking every thought captive” to talk about the battles he fights in this spiritual war.  Like any war, there are captives, or prisoners of war.  The captives that Paul and Timothy take are thoughts, arguments or false assumptions that set themselves up against the truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul says that he takes these false ideas captive so that he can lock them up as prisoners, so that they can’t escape.

Paul is discussing this topic in 2 Corinthians 10 because the people in Corinth had been judging him, and saying that he is timid in person, but bold in his letters.  Paul argues that, first of all, what he is in his letters is the same as what he is in person, in his actions.  And second of all, the judgments that people are making against him are not important because his real work is in a war (that cannot be seen).

He tells the Christians from Corinth that it doesn’t matter whether they think he is bold or timid.  What really matters is that he is fighting to proclaim the gospel.  He is tearing down strongholds of lies and falsehoods, and making them obedient to Christ, to the truth.  He is working alongside the Lord Jesus and using the power of the gospel to capture false ideas —  false ‘thoughts’ that are disobedient to Christ — and through his teaching ministry he is making these erroneous thoughts and ideas obedient to Christ, who is the truth.

Paul says that his weapons have divine power, because the gospel that he preaches is the power of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

The power of the gospel is found in the fact that Jesus Christ took away the law.  He accomplished the Law for us, so that we may rest in Him.  We are obedient to Him if we are resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  There is no work for us to do; we do not have to take every thought captive, and we do not have to do anything else to make ourselves complete.  All He asks of us is that we believe Him (trust Him, rely on Him, depend on Him).  That is the only work that He requires.

The only work left to do, is to fully believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.””  John 6:28-27

Do you want to be blessed?

I know a lot of Christians who are focused on “getting blessed.”  They want a new car or a new house or a new job.  But what does God think about all of this?  What is His definition of “blessings”?

We first read about blessings In Genesis 12.  It is recorded that God made a promise of future blessings to Abraham (Abram).

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.”  Genesis 12:1 & 2

What was the blessing that was promised to Abram?  (Who was later re-named Abraham.) We get our answer from the Apostle Paul, the guy who was taught the gospel message directly from the Lord Jesus Himself.

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12

Okay, so with confidence that the Apostle Paul is a credible witness to the truth, let us finally get an answer to the question..  What was the blessing promised to Abraham?  Paul gives the answer in chapter 3 of his letter to the Galatians. 😁

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:13-14

You guys, this is so exciting!  We don’t have to be born an Israelite.  Even we Gentiles can receive the promise given to Abraham.  Whether a Jew or a Gentile, you can receive the promise of the Holy Spirit!

And we all need the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit that gives life to our mortal bodies.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  Romans 8:11

If you want to be blessed, that is about as good as it gets.  If you want to be blessed, it begins with faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you want to be blessed by God, seek the blessing that was promised to Abraham:  the Holy Spirit.

And once His Spirit has given life to your mortal body, once you have been born again, you ARE blessed!  That’s it.  You will never find anything better.  A new car, a new house, and a new job can not compare.

The gospel is such good news.  So good.  . . . It’s almost ridiculous how GOOD it is!!  😆  Let’s rest in and trust in this awesome God of ours today!


For more on this topic, check this out.