This week I’m sweating for Jesus with some fantastic rising 7th graders who’ve chosen to serve needy families by doing yardwork and hosting a VBS in a Houston-area park.
Translation? LOOOONG days of dirt, fire ants, and other creepy crawlies, not to mention stuffy church-van rides and lots of last minute changes to their VBS plans. But, hey, they’re middle-schoolers, and they figure out ways to make it fun! Each day they also debrief about the things they want to celebrate and the areas where they want to grow.
One growth area these kids chose for our team? Being joyful even when they’re tired, grumpy, and frankly, don’t want to lift one more shovelful of mulch.
Our site leaders loved that idea, and they also challenged us to make it stick: “Just how WILL you be joyful when things are hard?” They pointed us to the account of Paul and Silas in Acts 16 to look for answers, so what better place to continue our study of the fruit of the Spirit as we look at JOY?
Facing trumped up charges in Philippi, Paul and Silas were mobbed, stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and then had their feet fastened in stocks. Look, I just got an ant bite on my hand, and I wanted to complain over that mild ouch. These men, though, had every right to rant and rave about their treatment. But that’s not what happened:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25
Praying is one thing but singing in the midst of misery? This wasn’t manufactured emotion or putting a positive spin on a tough situation. They were bruised and bleeding and didn’t know whether they would be executed. They weren’t faking their way through something like that. What they had, though, was that Spirit-grown joy that comes from knowing Christ and knowing the end game. Paul and Silas could sing and praise in the midst of their pain because they knew they were sharing in Christ’s suffering and would also share in His glory. They knew the gospel was unstoppable, and that no matter the opposition, Christ’s kingdom work would prevail, saving people from destruction. At that very moment of joyful trust, they even got to witness the power of Christ and His cross:
“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:26-29
The account ends with the jailer and his whole family choosing Christ and being baptized. Verse 34 says the man was “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God.” He, too, got to see the end game.
So for our team tomorrow, just how will we be joyful when we’re hot, tired, and thirsty at the work site? Or if we have another day like today when our VBS visitors were not children but simply two grizzled homeless men with no interest in relay games? (Side note: they did allow us to share our snacks and water with them!)
My prayer is that we will remind each other of the end game, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3
And like Paul and Silas, we’ll probably do some singing, too!
Need to dive deeper into joy? Consider putting yourself on a Joy30 with thirty days of concentrating on what God has to say about having a heart of gladness. You can begin your journey with the posts below, and then start making your own discoveries with this great list of verses.
Fruit photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash