I have a friend in my life, who has meant a lot to our family. He probably doesn’t know this, but he invested in me when I was younger and at a time when my own youth minister couldn’t see past my shyness. As long as I’ve known this individual he has made jokes about everything in life. He is always smiling and laughing. His outlook on life is contagious…
We recently finished a phenomenal series at church called, “Joy: No Matter What.” It seems so many people struggle to find joy today. We chase happiness from one unfulfilling thing to the next. We buy into culture and spend money and believe lies that only this one next thing will make us complete. All the while God is waiting for us to be so hungry that we realize He is the only thing we need.
Our family friend, who my brother and I feel has the whole joy in life thing down completely, went in for a routine doctor’s appointment and found out he has cancer. A quote from our Pastor came to mind. “One of the marks of a mature Christian is how you handle adversity and bad days.” Little did I know, a week later I would witness firsthand the reaction and response to the adversity of a man who found out he was more than sick.
The series focused on Paul and the book of Philippians, written with the hope that we can learn to have joy in our bad days and moments. Paul wanted to preach outwardly to as many people as he could. He had big plans to spread the Gospel and make a difference for Christ and instead he landed in prison. Paul could have easily been depressed, given up, and seen prison as a dead end, but he chose life. Paul preached inside the prison and he was able to make more of an impact that he could have dreamed.
Our friend struggled initially like anybody else with hearing the news, but came to peace with God’s sovereignty. He stood before his family and friends, surrendered to God’s will and quoted with a sincere heart, 2 Corinthians 4:17. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” As he stood before the church, he was still smiling and he was still joking. He stood as an encouragement for us all because his joy and peace comes not from this world, but from things that are unseen and unheard of to the world. He walks with Jesus through the valleys and the hills and he knows who holds the past, present and future.
We have the book of Philippians today because Paul’s plans didn’t work out. We have the book of Philippians because God’s plans did. Paul’s free time in prison allowed him to write. His joy allowed him to leave a legacy for generations to come. Sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we want, because God is trying to do something much bigger. Sometimes we can’t see the big picture, but we can always trust the artist.
This friend is not the only one I have known to go through this. I admire all those who walk the path of cancer—your strength and courage. My grandmother, my aunt, other relatives over time, my neighbor and family friends through the years—you’ve all been an inspiration to live life to the fullest. I know the journey wasn’t always easy.
To this friend, I say thank you for your love for life both before and after you heard the news. Thank you for bringing Jesus and laughter into my life and for investing in our family. There are greater things yet to come! There are greater things still to be done! Hold on to joy now and forevermore.
And for everyone, life is too short. Live in true, unspeakable JOY each and every day!