“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:21, NLT
We are living in one of the very dark times of human history. The Jews during the reign of King Asa lived in such a time like what we are facing now:
“During those dark times, it was not safe to travel. Problems troubled the people of every land. Nation fought against nation, and city against city, for God was troubling them with every kind of problem.” 2 Chronicles 15:5-6 NLT
From 1346 to 1353, 75 to 200 million people died from the Black Death, the bubonic plague pandemic in Eurasia and North Africa. Some regarded it as a divine punishment for the world’s wicked ways and thought it marked the end of the world. Others blamed Jews, foreigners, travelers and lepers for the pandemic. Some towns barricaded themselves in, afraid to let anyone in who was not already there and equally afraid to let anyone out. New plague cemeteries were opened as the parish burial grounds were insufficient for the massive numbers of the dead. What is happening now in the COVID 19 pandemic should therefore not surprise us – our human weaknesses and fears are exposed in such times.
Fear spread even faster than the bacteria or virus. Pandemics, tragedies and adversities in life are times when the condition of our hearts are revealed. Are we living in fear of death or in the love of God? Is the garden of our heart full of the weeds of lust, greed and pride? Has the seed of God’s love blossomed into the fruit of love, joy and peace? It is a time to draw near to God and to deepen our roots of faith. The best antidote to fear is faith in a loving God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In these dark times, we have the opportunities to be the “burning bushes” of God – to draw others into God’s loving presence. It is a time to embark on the exodus from our slavery to sin to the Rest of God. We need to move from a capitalistic society that idolizes money, sex and power to a co-operative community that is rooted in love, joy and peace. The love of God is the consuming fire that burns up the weeds of greed, lust and pride and fuels the light of Christ through our acts of love and deeds of faith.
Our hearts need to be circumcised before we can obey the new commandment that Jesus gave us – to love one another as He has loved us. Then we will obey, not in order to please God, but out of the love of Christ who is in us. And when we do so, we will have the inexpressible joy that overflows:
“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:10-12, NLT
It is such overflowing joy that will empower us to face the storms and adversities in life. Henri Nouwen reminds us that every bit of life is touched by a bit of death. Joy and sadness are born at the same time from the deep places in our hearts. Henri Nouwen observed:
“But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.”
Jesus conquered death by dying on the cross to give us the joy of salvation:
“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right-hand side of God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2, GNB
Overflowing joy is the hallmark of a disciple of Christ who knows that God is for us, that Christ is in us and that the Spirit is with us. Overflowing joy is the fruit of abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us. Trials, adversities and persecutions prove the genuineness of our faith as well as purify our faith. Overflowing joy is the treasure of a faith that is more precious than gold:
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT.
Our purpose in life is to be witnesses of the joy of God’s great salvation by rejoicing in all circumstances with the peace that is beyond human understanding. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit which we bear when we deepen our roots of faith. The treasures we seek reveal the desires of our hearts. When the joy of the Lord is our treasure, our heart’s desire will be to seek the Presence of our Divine Lover. When we do so, life becomes simple and straightforward. I felt deeply touched and inspired by Eugene Petersen’s translation of Colossians 2:6-7:
“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live in him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.”
In our messy and confusing world, we cannot be sure of what to believe at times. But we can always know what love requires of us – to seek the joy of the Lord in all circumstances and not happiness in our pleasures. And this is found in full obedience, holy reverence and true humility:
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.