There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
—Henri Matisse, translated by Sophie Hawkes
Some days, joy comes easy. Those are the sunny, shalom days, when hope is high and pain is low. It flows like river those happy golden days.
But other days you have to take joy.
You have to track it down, sort of steal it from the most unlikely places. Those are the days when hope is low and pain is high—”take joy” days. On those days we must actively pursue. Teeth clenched, we must stalk joy.
That was me today.
Because the fig tree wasn’t all ablossum. The son was incommunicado. The wounds still weep. Which meant I needed to take joy. I needed to work for it, look for it, stalk it.
This is the Christian disciple’s sacred duty. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith,” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We are not entitled to joy: we work for it.
We Stalk Joy
I read this quote a decade ago. It came to mind this week.
Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: “The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”Flannery O’Connor, in a 1956 Letter quoted here
I love this picture. Today, by grace, I lived it. It looked like me walking down the path after work while the frozen pizza baked. But really, it was out and out, deliberate stalking. It was mixing God’s love back in with the pain and rejoicing that God is working out “all things in conformity with his will” (Ephesians 1:11), including the things that make me sad. It was calling to mind that my God is “the God of power and steadfast love” (Psalm 62:11-12).
For such a God, I can wait. In such a God, I will rejoice.
I was out mixing and recalling when that tiny fuchsia flower burst into my sight. Among the falling leaves and and fading grass right alongside my walking path, there it was—a reminder that if we look hard enough, we can find reason to rejoice.
Most of us are probably familiar with the prophet Habakkuk’s poem at the end of chapter three.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Though we may be stripped of our comforts, discouraged in our hopes, and have good reason to grieve our losses, there is this glorious “yet I.”
In a stirring message on Habakkuk three, Pastor Kevin DeYoung comments on those strong, meek words:
This is the mark of God-centered defiance. Yet I will rejoice. This is the revolution, this is the rebellion worth having. A rebellion of joy. I will be like a deer bounding through the air, scampering along the craggy mountains, swift, surefooted. You say, well, how can he rejoice? He can rejoice because he has seen the God of present glory.
Stalking. Rebellion. God-centered defiance. This is a fight. We don’t take these days lying down. We take joy.
Out Of Reach
Friend, do you have troubles? Habakkuk did. I do. I have great problems but I have a greater God. My circumstances need not limit my joy, because I have “seen the God of present glory.”
I know this is true, because my family situation in some big ways is worse than it was a year ago. In some ways my finances and health are too. But my joy is more. DeYoung said something like this: his circumstances were worse but his view of God is better.
You can have that view too. You can look to Jesus. We can take joy in the unshakable One. Then our joy is put out of the reach of our enemies. Then we are not slaves to circumstances.
But it is on me to look for the flowers. It’s my duty to seek* “the God of present glory.”
So with teeth ground and furrowed brow, I seek him in his Word and in walks through his world. There are always flowers. And I dare the joy-stealing dragon to breathe his fire as I pass.
By grace, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy.
Will you come stalk joy with me?
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
*God has revealed his glory in the Word and in the world. Psalm 19 is a great place to start if you want help seeing it.