Theme: The Loss of Former Joy
This week’s lessons show us that although things happen that take away our joy, still we can turn to God for healing and joy’s restoration.
Scripture: Psalm 126:1-6
The time of exceptional joy didn’t last forever for the psalmist and his generation. If this is about the return of the Jews from Babylon, as it seems to be, we know that those first years in the land were filled with the hard tasks of trying to get established, rebuild the temple and reconstitute a lost society. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah tell how difficult that was. As far as the temple was concerned, the work was begun (the foundations were laid), then stopped, then begun again. The work on this second temple was so inferior to the first temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and his armies that the older Jews, who recalled the former days, wept at the disappointing contrast.
The days of the exiles’ return were certainly wonderful. But they had been succeeded by many days of discouragement and hard work.
Here is where we can identify, and easily. We may have trouble thinking of joyful times to match those of the first of this psalm’s stanzas, but we do not have much difficulty thinking of times in which we have lost some former joy, however great or, more likely, weak or moderate it may have been. I leave aside here the loss of merely worldly joys like teenage slumber parties or football weekends in college, or even great vacations at the shore. I think rather of the loss of good times spiritually. What of those? Isn’t it true that we regularly lose those happy times too?
1. The joy of salvation. I start with salvation first, because a loss here is nearly universal for those who have been believers for any length of time. For many believers, especially those who became Christians later in life after living far from God for a time, perhaps in bondage to some sin, conversion to Christ was thrilling. It was the most wonderful thing imaginable. It was impossible to stop talking about Jesus, exactly like a lover who finds it impossible to stop talking about his or her beloved. But that initial joy passes. It should be succeeded by the more settled and equally valuable attitudes of quiet trust, but the songs and laughter are gone. And it may even be the case—it certainly is for some—that the discouragement of defeats and even doubt slip in, so that the Christian begins to wonder if he or she is a Christian after all. Even the great John Wesley once wrote, “Where is the joy I knew when once I saw the Lord?”
The loss of this initial joy does not mean that the person is no longer a true Christian. But it is still a difficult experience to live through and one from which some believers never quite seem to recover.
2. The joy of some great spiritual victory. This joy comes later on in the Christian life, when we have begun to be conscious of sin and are struggling against it. Before we were Christians there would have been no hope of victory, in fact, not even a desire for it. We would have been happy as we were. But God pointed out the sin, we struggled, and suddenly there was a real breakthrough. That unforgiven grudge against the person who wounded us is gone; we have forgiven him or her. The addiction to alcohol or drugs that was destroying us physically, mentally and spiritually has been removed. Ruptured family relationships have been healed. We have repented of a theft, and have restored what we took from another person.
What joy we have when we realize that God has operated powerfully in our lives in such ways, making us more like Jesus Christ than before. Yes, but it is not long before we come up against another besetting sin and become conscious of other, perhaps even more significant failures. Soon the former joy is only a faded memory. We wonder if these struggles will never end. Will we ever really be happy again?
Name the difficulties that awaited the Jews upon their return from Babylon.
What sometimes happens to the initial joy of salvation?
Prayer: Pray for any Christians you know who seem to be discouraged spiritually. Also, ask the Lord to make you aware of any sins in your life, and for his grace and power to give you victory.