The mystery: How can the fight (pain, sacrifices, and self-denial) for faith be Jubilant? Explaining the Joy Found in Pain

The Bible asks us to delight in God (Psalm 37:4). The same word of God emphasizes that we are blessed if we delight in God’s law and meditate on His laws day and night (see Psalm 1). And yes, as John Piper likes to quote, it’s not an advise to delight in the Lord, but a command! And yet the same word of God clearly states that this call to enjoy God is not an easy road.

To enjoy God (or delight in Him) is a fight.

Yes, to have Jesus at the center of our lives is not an easy work. It’s a painful experience of dying to self, refusing to obey the desires of our bodies, and fighting to walk in the will of God. it’s pain; it’s the narrow gate; it’s a way of self-denial-dying to self and living for Christ.

And here is the mystery; how does God expect us to enjoy Him through pain? (here, the word ‘enjoy’ or ‘delight’ is emotional and involves feeling; it is not just an academic concept. It’s a life of the soul signaling pleasure, happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction). How can following Christ or being a Christian or exercising any spiritual discipline even among ourselves be delightful when there is pain in the fight for that joy? How can gaining God’s kingdom bring us joy as we let go of all we were holding?

Read this too: God’s love and favors in his punishments

Wait! Before I get too much with the Biblical truths surrounding the above doctrine, can I ask you a question? Yeah, do you know what it is to have pain and joy at the same time? Do you have anything, any person, any idea that causes you pain and yet causes you joy in exceedingly more measures that letting go of it, her or him is hard?

Do you get the philosophy behind this? Ask a man enjoying pepper or a sour alcoholic drink or sharp fruit! The man experiences the sourness at the same time experiencing sweetness that his end confession is; wow, it’s amazing!

I have been blessed with an opportunity to listen to singles explain their reasons for delaying or avoiding marriage altogether; I don’t want to lose my freedom. Everywhere I go, I am hearing fellow friends facing it hard in their marriages, why should I go for the same pain? I, currently, have freedom, no one controls me, and neither do I have pressures of providing for this and that. I really live my life the way I want to. Really, why should I go for marriage? They argue!

But I always ask; is pain and loss of ‘independence’ or ‘freedom’ (I am putting those words in quotes!) the only things you see in marriages? I mean, do you honestly believe that it’s only pain and no joy in marriage? How about love? Do you believe in the joy and pleasures of being in love? And then do you believe in the pain and hurtful feelings and thoughts experienced nowhere else but in love? And yet love still remains joyous! That is the mystery.

Have you visited our book store yet? Try it now here

Yes, the things we enjoy most are the same things that hurt us most; love! And yes, this is the real mystery behind Christianity or the cross of following Christ!

Seriously, the whole motivation behind Christianity is not the pain, sacrifices, and self-denial made in service to Christ and the church, but the real Joy found in the journey. Yes, the call is not only to obey God’s word, but to find joy and pleasure in doing that (Delight in the Lord and He will provide for the desires of your heart-Psalm 34:7). The call in John 14:21 (whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…) actually testifies to the above truth; our obedience is (should be) borne out of our love for Him.

Pain mixes with joy and we can’t even draw the line!

In the book, when I don’t desire God, John Piper writes; the need to fight to be happy in God himself is still ironical and true. It’s ironical because in the midst of a fight, the feelings are often painful, not pleasant. But Paul still says to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12) [John Piper; When I don’t desire God, page 8].

John Piper founded what is known as modern Christian hedonism. The general doctrine behind Christian hedonism is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. John Piper is saying; God does not find glory in us when we are just being obedient, no, He finds true glory when we even enjoy doing that. Isn’t that the Psalmist’s take? (see Psalm 119).

Few people (the ignorant to this fundamental Biblical truth) have criticized John Piper’s doctrine citing that it promises joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness in our service to the Lord and yet it’s Biblical and clear that the way to heaven is narrow, full of troubles, sacrifices, pain, and tribulations.

But they are wrong and John is right! Why? Because John Piper does not deny the fight, the pain, the cross, and the death (painful death to self) but he stresses that that is not the end goal; the end goal is more pleasure and joy which is found in owning or gaining Christ at the expense of anything else. That is the true gospel. The message does not end in Christ’s death, but the resurrection and victory attained. Christianity is not a call to losing; it’s a call to gain more and more!

I wrote something about this same biblical truth; see it here

Explaining the Mystery

In the small book Loving Your Spouse As Christ Loved The Church, we tried to touch on the principle behind the joyful sacrifices made in love. As explained in that book, serving our spouses in love is actually serving our own bodies and soul for it is then that we reap joy. In other words, we are loving ourselves when we love God and others for it is then we derive true living and happiness. The whole idea behind our sacrifices or our eagerness to carry our cross and follow Christ is the reward promised (our forever living with Jesus enjoying His Glory).

Also Read This: How to love yourself best

Do you get that? We are saying that the sacrifices, pain, and self-denial exercised in our pursuit of God and holiness do not reduce or minimize our joy, happiness, or pleasure; they increase it. And we are also saying that the call to enjoy God and find pleasure in Him is not the call to Christianity with no persecution and all sorts of tribulations associated with it; it is instead a call to sacrificing and dying to self even more. The mystery resounds; there is joy in the sufferings! And so St. Paul writes;

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3). Jesus adds; blessed are you when people insult, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11–12). Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2–3). And Romans 8:18 confesses this truth; “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us

Yes, the real reason (motivation) we find joy in the sacrifices and pain is the rewards promised; our partial glory and victory with Christ now and the coming everlasting glory with Christ. It’s all centered on the promised joy or reward.

Read this too: The Motivation For Everything

But the mystery remains; if our current sufferings and pains are motivated by the anticipated joy, doesn’t that mean that we are currently not having joy (living in agony and displeasure) enduring it all for the coming joy and glory? Honestly, that might be the case with most of us.

We are gloomy, depressed, displeased, and angered Christians being coerced by circumstances and designs of God to behave well towards Him, ourselves, and others so that we can earn the promised crown of everlasting glory and pleasure with Him! But is that the way it should be?

The journey is the Destination!

In our action reward philosophy series, we covered the superficial dimension of what we are discussing here, but the exact explanations regarding how joy happens alongside the pain or quest can be explained exactly by borrowing the knowledge of entrepreneur and blogger Yaro Starak. Yaro Starak, in his famous article The Journey is The Destination, argues;

“Just as a man or woman feels a compulsion when they are attracted energy is behind a desire to win a game of tennis, or solve a math company, or win an election. This energy is the energy that moves us, individually, and as a life itself.” That is the desire. But he (Yaro), having been inspired by the famous book Alchemist, goes on and confesses; “The real treasure of course, is not the material wealth found by unearth old gold, it’s the experience and awareness gained from. In other words, the journey is the destination.”

Yaro Starak is emphatically, just as the Alchemist portrays, telling us that the enjoyment or joy is not only in the destination but on the journey as well. The Alchemist does not get excited and find pleasure only when he finds the hidden treasure but he even does find joy and pleasure during the quest; the journey onto the treasure is the treasure itself! Let me repeat this; the journey is the treasure itself. Listen to him;

“The goal is a lure, an outcome to stimulate your energy to chase, the energy of pursuit that actually delivers happiness. This is also why, once you do succeed and reach your goal, the happiness you feel is quickly replaced with needs to find another goal. You need something else to pursue because the act of creation is the purpose, not the creation”

Do you get it? The author is kindly asking us to savor the chase. He is saying that along the journey, during the fights and sacrifices, and all sorts of trials and tribulations is the joy as well. The final victory could be a climax, but of something already in existence. And John Piper actually says there is no climax for there is always more of God to enjoy. Let’s dig deep into this a little!

There is pleasure in desiring

The pursuit, the quest, the longing, and the thirst is also the joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness! Let John Piper help us;

“Many desires are themselves pleasant. That is, the desire is itself a pleasure, not just a longing for a pleasure. Who could draw a line between the power of sexual desire and sexual pleasure? The desire is part of the satisfaction. We speak of climax not because that is the only pleasure, but precisely because it is not the only pleasure. All the desires leading to it and following after it are part of the one big pleasure”

John Piper goes ahead and stresses that actually there cannot be desire if the thing desired for had not been tasted. Wait! This truth is so amazing. Earlier, in the book The Christian Quest Volume 1, I had written something to do with how knowing (having taste of something) increases our desire for that same thing;

“Knowing increases hope and faith for it is really ambiguous to hope in the things that do not exist in your mind or knowledge or knowing. It is this understanding (taste of) of what Heaven is that deepens our desire for it and thus the hope to be there” (The Christian Quest, Volume 1, page 29).

In other words, the desire in God is not only the longing for that time of pleasure and satisfaction in Him but actually the pleasure itself for we can’t desire or long for pleasure we don’t know about. Yeah, the journey is the destination for you can’t long for a destination you never tasted! Being a Christian, even now in this crazy and messy world is a pleasant thing.

Get the glimpses of the above book in this article; It’s not your desire letting you down, but your knowledge or awareness

Do you get it now? Maybe you still don’t. And so let’s turn to John Piper, the king of this teaching;

“Desire would not exist if the thing enjoyed had not already been tasted. That’s how the heart comes to feel something is desirable. Desire is awakened by tastes of pleasure. The taste may be ever so small. But if there is no taste at all of the desirability of something, then there will be no desire for it. In other words, desire is a form of the very pleasure that is anticipated with the arrival of the thing desired. It is, you might say, the pleasure itself experienced in the form of anticipation.”

Who makes this mystery (finding joy in pain and suffering) possible?

In the book of Matthew 13:44 and then Chapter 19:16–26, this whole article is summarized. In the 13th chapter, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is like a treasure and a man who finds it joyfully sells off all he has as to gain that one treasure. Listen to the words;

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (13:44, NIV). In other words, the call is full of joy, pleasure, and happiness so extreme that a man gives up on other fake and weak pleasures and joys just as to have the real ones.

Also read this: Our Sin is not desiring too much but having weaker desires!

But wait! Someone somewhere wanted to gain the same treasure but wasn’t willing to let go of his weak treasures! Look deeply into the story of the rich young man’s issue;

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (verse 21). When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (verse 22). In other words, this rich man did not see the treasure of gaining heaven much bigger and more precious than what he already had. The bible is clear; he refused to let go of his wealth (meaning he saw what he had as wealth, otherwise he would lose it easily to gain the real wealth).

Have you got the deal?

The point is that the journey and the quest is painful and full of sufferings and self-denials and only God can make us experience the joy entangled within such a mess of troubles and tribulations. It’s God who graciously opens our eyes to see the beauty, Glory, and the treasures in Him to the extent that we are willing to let go of all our treasures (apparently, the fake and weak treasures, joys, and pleasures) for the greater glory of being with Christ in paradise. Hear the words from Christ’s lips;

This is something people cannot do, but God can do all things! (Matthew 19:26, New Century Version). This is important to know. We have written many topics about this God’s gracious hand in revealing the preciousness of His kingdom to us and we hope you have come across many of them.

Summary and Conclusion

The call to Christianity and commitment to exercising Christian disciplines of love is not an easy call. It’s a tough decision, associated with hard choices every day and dying to self for the glory of Christ. As the bible says, it’s the cross, the narrow gate, the giving up on life and all that we count important for the sake of Christ. And yet God expects us to enjoy this ride!

Yes, the call to Christianity is again the call to more joys, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, and pleasure in God (the source of anything that is good). Everybody knows this joy or the fulfillment dug out of fulfilling the call to humanity and acts of love. And it’s this reward of indescribable joy and satisfaction (both of now and future) that motivates us and pushes us more into the service. That is the reason. How it happens! It’s a mystery. But we know who makes this mystery possible; God.

God bless you



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store