JOHN 16: JOY FOLLOWS GRIEF
Today’s chapter can be broken up into two parts: the work of the Holy Spirit [c15:26-16:15]; and Grief turned to Joy [v16-33]. In my experience, it’s only ever been the work of the Holy Spirit that’s been able to turn my grief to joy.
When our Michael died, it was the images of his lovely little face when we first got him, that made me cry most – the first photos and his last photo. I’d prayed for a boy because we already had a girl. So, I figured, it’d be cool to have one of each. When Mark told me in the birthing theatre, that our baby was a boy, my first thought was: “God answered my prayer”. I guess I’ll never forget the memory of that moment without tears welling up, until a draw my last breath.
Then, when our handsome, strong son past away at the age of 18, and no medical reason could be found for why his body stopped living, it was the last photo that I took of him, which continues to generate the most pride, and greatest thankfulness, that he was mine. Somehow the joy of ever having him, produces a level of ease in such exquisite pain. But there’s something deeper still that I continue to notice in various places. Deep spiritual-level joy in the face of anguish, seems rarely possible without the help of our Maker’s Holy Spirit.
In the Kate Winslet movie A Little Chaos, set in 1692, for example, Kate lost her husband and daughter in a carriage accident. This seemed to torment her thoughts at the oddest times. After gaining an incredible contract to design one of the gardens of the King of France, she then struggled through every working hour, in a time and culture that shunned career women.
While it may be true that the really good chick flicks, are the ones where there’s extreme hardship or suffering that draws a tear, followed by that perfect ending where everything is put to rights, my experience has proven to me that I couldn’t have survived many of the worst storms without my Maker’s Holy Spirit helping me from within.
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father – He will testify about Me.” [John 15:27]
But He hasn’t just testified about Jesus, He’s explain to me My Maker’s roadmap for my life at every landmark, milestone and junction. The Key to the Creator God’s map for the ordinary people who has no claim at all to anything related to the Creator, is Jesus. And that Key helps me to access the grid over which my life map is laid. With knowledge comes a level of calm. With understanding for processing the mountains and valleys, comes peace. And all this, Jesus has told us ahead of time. Why? So that we won’t fall away – or, using Kate’s movie title, we won’t fall into chaos. [v1] But where’s the map leading us?
“… a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think that he is offering a service to God.” [v2]
O great! That’s really comforting! And why would anyone bother to follow a God who predicts such a future?
This “prophecy” was fulfilled in the years after Jesus left. Some of the stories are documented in the Book of Acts. But, bizarrely enough, the prediction is also being committed by ISIS in our News headlines today. Before the first wave of storms hit, Jesus explained what the root-cause was and still is: “They do such things because they have not known the Father or me…” [v3]
For those on the planet who say that Jesus was a prophet in His time, then prophets always spoke with an immediate, mid-term and long-range quality to what they predicted. The immediate element was that, unless Jesus went away, the Advocate couldn’t come. [v7] In other words, the Creator God was continuing what He’s always done – a tag team. HIStory showed that as one prophet passed away, someone else would be raised up, to keep the nation moving forward. The Creator’s Holy Spirit is now His last great promise.[a]
The mid-term element to what Jesus was predicting in today’s chapter, happened to the 1st and 2nd Century Believers. Early Church History shows a great persecution taking place at the hands of the Jews, followed by the Romans – just as the prophet said it would happen.
The long-range element to what Jesus is saying here, is that such hardships are still in our future. In fact, each successive generation, who read His words, could experience the truth of them at any time. Followers are to expect their fulfilment so that if/when such things happen, Believers won’t be caught unprepared, chaotically confused or aimlessly questioning. The work of the Holy Spirit was always about enlightenment – enabling us to see what the Creator God is doing. He’ll guide us into all truth – all the truth that the Creator God has provided. [v13-15]
The second half of the chapter is about the promise of joy after our storms, pitfalls, stumbling-blocks, uphill climbs and desert wastelands that seem to be dotted all over our life map of human experience. Even the best life journey is 100% expected to conclude with the struggle of unpleasant/unwanted deterioration through aging. No-one can escape the yawning black hole ahead of us all called “death”. And no-one’s immune to storms along the way. But I can’t help noticing the words “in a little while” in today’s chapter.
One of the problems of following the Creator God is that He transcends time. Let me explain that…
Our earth’s atmosphere is the only place in the universe where time (as we know it) exists. We rotate on our axis and revolve around our sun and this gives us hours, days and years in time. However, as soon as you leave the surface of the planet and travel out into space, you lose track of “time”. In other words, our Maker’s idea of “a little while” can be quite different to our idea of it. Yet I’ve noticed that if I can trust Him at His word, and not be swayed by my human understanding of “time”, things begin to fall into place.
At every point along my journey, I’ve needed to wait for the red lights to change to green. The problem is, the traffic lights don’t speed up in bad weather. Weathering the storms under such frustrating conditions – when I’ve felt that I’m endlessly waiting for relief, light at the end of the tunnel, dawn to finally break after the darkness of night, or sunshine after perpetual grey skies – can be almost impossible to wait through. My Faith isn’t really faith at all until I’m about to throw it out the window, but stop, to hold onto it, for “a little while” longer.
“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So with you: now is your time for grief but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” [v21-22]
As I read today’s chapter and contemplate the concept of Joy Following Grief, I can’t help but think that it was precisely this teaching that got Jesus through the next 15 hours of hard, excruciatingly painful “labour”, which ultimately resulted in life being literally sucked out of Him. But like a mother in labour, He knew what was beyond the pain. [v16, 28] It’s this long-term HOPE ahead, not just for possible relief in this life, but the promise of Eternal Joy, in the Kingdom of my Father, that gets my through any hardships here. [v33] With my sights now set on what is unseen beyond the crest ahead of me, I’m able, in the power of my Maker’s Holy Spirit, to wade through the mud, endure the pain, and keep climbing the mountain a little while longer.
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[a] Joel 2:28-29