Flooding Joy In The Drought
Series on Joy, Part 6
“Though the fig tree dies not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce flood, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, I will rejoice in the Lord I will be Joyful in God my Savior”
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)
Earthquakes, hurricanes and universal uncertainty command every news headline. The search under tons for ruble in Mexico is beginning to yield null. Countless people in the states of Florida and Texas and Islands in its path are left to rebuild their lives long after the cameras are gone. It’s hard to find the Joy that Paul has spoken of so far, few people are “exceedingly glad”.
Hurricane victims are left first grateful to be alive, then for their dwellings and some for restored power. The emotional wake of the storms is as wide and powerful as the hurricanes themselves. In many ways, the stormy days began the next sunny morning where we all watched news footage, and began checking on loved ones. Jaw dropping news coverage commanded media of all formats. Most of us, if not affected ourselves, knew somebody adversely affected. My hometown was flooded, shattering records and destroying history, dwellings and lives—only to be realized as the water subsided. I found myself deeply sad even though my house was perfect and I never lost power. Tears ran freely, I certainly am not “exceedingly glad”.
I came across this Old Testament scripture and it continues to sink deeply into my heart and soul. The fields are, literally, producing floods, and people will be adversely affected by these hurricanes for years to come, how can I rejoice in the Lord? It’s taken me days to even begin to understand this; my soul feels like that fig tree, it has produced no buds of joy; the vines are bare with prickly producing pain.
So, I find myself desperately seeking to understand this Old Testament scripture. “I will rejoice in the Lord”—the word “rejoice” –here meaning, “to receive the favor” so, this passage can be better translated: “I will receive the favor of the Lord”. I think gold would be easier for me to find than any favor of the Lord. Yes, it can always be worse; but my reality is mine—and while it can always be worse, sometimes that oft expressed truth minimizes our pain, and takes the power of seeking Him out of the equation. The last part of that verse-“I will be joyful in God my Savior” can be better translated “yet I will jump for joy in God my Savior”.
My search for Joy just got real—and I find myself going to the mat on this, perhaps at an intensity that I never could have planned. It’s not just about hurricanes and earthquakes. It is about the storms of my life, some of which are festering, because it is time-the trees are bare, the well is dry—and I am not exceedingly glad; I fail to find the favor of God, and my soul weighs down my entire body—my feet are not leaving the ground—there is no leaping.
Did Paul have some special dispensation of God that I don’t have? His ability to demonstrate “exceeding gladness” confuses and infuriates me more than ever.
We pick his letter to the church at the end of chapter 2. His letter to them is as encouraging as it is instructional. He encourages them to obey both in his presence and in his absence. Then he pops this little zinger in his love letter to one of his favorite churches:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless…But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad an rejoice with all of you, so that you may rejoice with me also” Phil 2:14-18 (NIV)
Um, it can’t be that simple; it just can’t. It has to be harder because “exceeding gladness” is not here; finding favor is not here; and my feet are chained to my prison less ground. He closes the chapter by telling them that he rejoices with them and he asks them to do the same for him. The word “rejoice” here meaning to “sympathize”, could be phrased like this:
“I will sympathize with you and you can sympathize with me”
He admonishes them not to complain. Was the man that has so much to teach us about Joy onto something?
While everyone around me prefaced “But somebody else has it worse than I do” with their stories of loss and sadness, still our words, both spoken and unspoken, are complaints. I receive this, and my heart shifts from sadness of the devastation around me to the devastation of my soul, and the storms, both past and present, that are determined to destroy it. Can I pour my life out as a sacrifice as Paul did? Does “exceeding gladness” come with the ability to stop complaining?
Will I find favor in the land of gratefulness and trust of the sovereignty of God?
If I stop complaining and realize that my life is pouring out a sacrifice for something bigger than me allow me to leap and bring levity to my days? Can I describe what I feel for those around me “rejoicing”? If Paul was asking the church to sympathize with him, then apparently I have been rejoicing all along.
So, I’m left with a choice. Will I operate in Joy though the vines are barren, the pens are empty and the fields are producing floods?
A good place to start is to understand complaining for what it is; a silent fist shaking argument with God about the circumstances of my life—the trees that seem lifeless, and devastation around me is nothing compared to this task that is front of me-the one that brings my fist to outstretched arms and a silent spirit that has conversations with the One that brings Joy-Joy in the midst of devastation and floods—floods that has brought a drought that perhaps I’ve not known before. I understand it’s more than hurricanes and earthquakes of late. It’s the strong winds of almost my entire life I find myself attempting to survive. I want to do it with Joy.
And so I continue to search, but the answers are coming—and those answers depend on Him, not me. And so that is where I continue this search, in the floodwaters of my soul and the drought of my spirit.