I recently took up learning to play squash. One of the hardest things to learn about playing squash is the behaviour of the ball itself. There are different types of squash balls intended for players of various experience levels. The difference lies in the amount of rubber and air inside each type of ball.
Depending on the kind of ball you are using, you’ll find out that when you first start playing, it takes great effort to hit the ball against the wall and have it bounce back to where you want it to.
I quickly found out eventually, that an important part of playing squash is to first ‘warm up the ball’. This is done when players hit the ball hard against the wall in such a way as to make it possible for the other player to do same. After about 6 to 8 of such hits or volleys as they are called technically, the ball becomes warm and bounces a lot better. So what does squash have to do with today’s topic? I hope to explain this as we go on.
Our main Scripture reference is found in Romans 5: 1 - 11. The book of Romans as many of us know, was written by Paul the Apostle. Commentators agree that this book was written by Paul in Corinth while he was staying in the house of Gaius (1 Corinthians 1:14, Romans 16:23)
If Paul were a today’s politician, some parts of his letter in Romans 5 would have been edited appropriately. For instance, he started the epistle with great news that would naturally elicit a very happy response from readers. But it looks like he spoilt it in verse 3, ‘We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials....’ I can imagine his political advisers saying, "No Paul, that is not politically correct! You don’t tell that bit to people, they will get discouraged!"
As it so happens, Paul was not the only one who spoke about rejoicing in trials and problems. Someone who knew our Lord Jesus intimately, James his half-brother, wrote to the Jewish believers, “Count it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1: 2-4)
Paul was presenting the gospel the way it was meant to be. There are many churches today where people are being told that once they become Christians, all their problems are over. When these people realise that they not only still have the problems they had before they became Christians but have also acquired new ones by reason of their new relationship, they tend to get discouraged because of what they had been taught.
Notice in Romans 5:3, Paul did not say ‘We can rejoice too, "if" we run into problems or trials’, He said "when" we run into problems or trials. This runs against the “Positive thinking”, “Don’t worry, be happy” teachings we hear in many Churches today.
So Paul lays it out to us clearly. We are saved because of what Jesus Christ did. God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. As God works out his purpose, some- times the things we want run contrary to what His purpose for our life is. The more we surrender to His will, the more we experience His joy and peace. The more we choose to follow our own will, the more we get frustrated and are bereft of the joy that we need to go through and overcome life’s problems that may come our way.
Paul helps us understand why we sometimes fall into problems and trials. In verse 3 he says, “..they help us to develop endurance”. I looked up the dictionary meaning of endurance and got the following; "The ability to ensure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation with- out giving way." or "The capacity of something to last or withstand wear and tear".
The natural man will often react in different ways. Some may become cold and bitter, while others may turn to other means to give them temporary happiness which eventually leads to all kinds of addiction.
It is God’s joy that gives us the capacity to keep pushing on with the right attitude, when we are faced with life’s problems. This is why Paul says endurance de- velops strength of character. As we trust God through our pain and sorrows, He works within us through the Holy Spirit and this strengthens our confidence in the hope of salvation. We become all the more grounded in faith and according to Paul, our hope of salvation is not in vain because we know that God loves us. How do we know this? Because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5: 5)
It was a Christian writer, Kathleen Norris, who wrote, “I am convinced that joy is a fruit, because it tastes so sweet”. This is in reference to joy being listed as a fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5: 22-23)
So am I saying here that when you face trials or problems, you should always put on a smiling face? Not at all! Our Lord Jesus was the most joyful man who ever lived on the surface of the earth. He had his moments of sadness. He wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35). In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He knew what was going to happen to the city as a consequence of rejecting the gospel. In Luke 22:44, as Jesus was preparing for crucifixion, He went to the garden of Eden to pray and it was recorded that in His anguish, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.
Yet in spite of these events, Jesus went from there to accomplish great and powerful acts that impacted the people around as well as the whole world.
Now about the squash ball I mentioned earlier. When warmed up, you begin to enjoy the game because the ball becomes more bouncy. When you hold it in your hands, you can actually feel the temperature of the ball. When it is cold however, if you drop it on the ground or throw it against a wall, don’t expect it to bounce back to you.
How far have you allowed God’s joy to fill you when you are going through trying times? Do you spend those times complaining to God or complaining about other people? Do you lash out because of the way you are feeling, making life miserable to the people around you?
That is not what God intended. God’s intention is for you to discover the joy that lies deep within your soul. When you give that joy room to flow, it takes up more and more room until you overflow with it. The more joy you have, the more your faith grows and the more you are changed until you become what God wants you to be.
If you do not have a relationship with Jesus however, you may not understand what spiritual joy is. You are still operating in the realm of emotional joy which is temporary. You are only living for the moment and life for you will continue to be an emotional rollercoaster. God wants to give you something better and something deeper. He wants to give you an anchor that will hold you in place no matter what may be going on in your life.
Open your heart to Him and you will experience that amazing joy and peace that only comes from above.