Unwavering Joy and the Beauty of Finishing Well
MAY 18, 2016 (original publishing date)
Joy does not come easy. In fact, you don’t have to live too long before you begin to realize that many times it is an outcome of a battle. I was twelve years old when I first learned this truth. A boy, not yet a man, when severe depression first mounted a surprise attack. I found myself on the floor, crying, lacking any understanding as to what was happening to me, not realizing an ongoing war had just begun. Six years later, I would sit in a doctors office and hear the physician diagnose me as bi-polar. I didn’t know what Manic Depression was, but the doctor promised me that there was a small pill he could give me could that could end the war I had bee fighting for years. He lied. Year after year I fought this battle for joy and the depression at times got so severe that I began to despise even the moments of joy that I experienced. Joy began to feel more like mockery because I knew it was fleeting. My experiences of joy became nothing more than reminders of what could be but never would. I would be lying if I said I had not considered suicide at times. I’d also be lying if I said that the considerations never materialized into attempts. To put it simply, most people’s fight for joy isn’t as ferocious as mine has been in the past and for many, the battle never seems so hopeless that it is no longer worth fighting.
It wasn’t until I encountered Jesus and his Gospel that the battle changed. What was once a hopeless fight for joy, where I was on the losing side, was now a war where I was on the winning team. Not only had I begun to experience joy but the level of Joy I began to know was nothing short of glorious. The joy was beyond anything I could imagine! However, the battle was far from being won. In Christ, the moments of joy that I had experienced were no longer fleeting. Joy has begun to be something foundational in my heart because Christ’s work was sure. However, When the dark clouds came in, it could still be brutal. I will never forget the nights my wife, as a newly wed, held me in her arms as I curled up in a ball and wept uncontrollably for no reason. Or the times I’d be playing with my daughter and in a moment the joy would turn to sorrow, and I couldn’t explain to her why her daddy was crying. My battle for joy has been an all out war, and I wish I could say every battle has been won, but it just isn’t true. However, every battle has been different, they are shorter and the dark nights now turn into dawn much quicker.
I know I am not alone in this battle for joy. As a Biblical Counselor, I have encountered and ministered to many people who have had the same struggle. For some, it is as severe as it has been with me. For others, it is not as severe but still debilitating. The truth of the matter is, everyone fights for joy. The real problem is, most don’t want to admit it. In fact, many don’t even realize the fight is going on. For many, they have settled with a pseudo-joy and have convinced themselves that the mediocre joy they know is the best there is. For some, however, they have encountered God through his Gospel and though they must still fight for joy, they know the true beauty and glory which they are fighting for. They fight because they know the joy that comes after every battle that’s won.
In many ways, this is simply a long introduction to the joy I want to honor in a friend of mine. I have had the privilege to know one of the greatest soldiers on the battlefield of Joy that this world has ever known. In many ways, his reputation for Joy is so renown that an introduction like this is necessary. You see, those who witness Gospel Joy from a distance can misunderstand its source. Those who know and walk in the joy of the Gospel, know there is always more to the story. True joy is so “otherworldly”, and it can mark a saint so boldly, that one can assume that it comes easy. When I consider my friend Oakley Beldon, this is one of the thoughts that come to mind. Oakley walked with such joy that to the person who did not know him well, he could appear to have attained the Joy we all fight for without the battle we have all had to wage.
The truth is However, Oakley had to fight for joy just like the rest of us; he just fought the battle well.
Oakley recognized that the battle for Joy had already been fought and won through the Lord Jesus Christ. Oakley understood that his battle was not fighting for hope but rather fighting to believe in the one who fought on his behalf and obtained the only true hope there is! Oakley fought to believe the Gospel, and as he won that battle of Faith, he also won his joy. Oakley gave up on trying to win his own joy and trusted in the one whom all joy flows from. In many ways, his fighting was believing and in his believing, he won the war. So often we fight for joy the same way we fight for salvation, we seek to earn it rather than receive it as a gift. Yet, I have learned that true Joy is the fruit of the Gospel and cannot be won by any other means than the fight of faith. Joy comes by believing, and we are naïve if we think the fight to believe is any less difficult than any other battle we must endure. It wasn’t until I understood this myself that my fight for joy changed drastically.
It is a critical Truth to understand that depression and despair feed off hopelessness. As I sought to fight depression, I sought to do so through all kinds of means. I would go on shopping sprees and buy things that I thought would make me happy. I tried to be around happy people and I hoped I would catch what they had. I even tried to recite passages of scripture that commanded me to “rejoice” in hopes that the imperative of a command would help me muster up the strength to be joyful. None of these things worked. What I needed to do was to believe in the one whom my depression was robbing me of rejoicing in.
The truth is, my gospel and faith were what was under attack and not my emotions. My emotions were just a symptom to point me to where the real battle was being fought. The real battle was a war for my faith, not my heart. As a Christian, Christ already has my heart, and that can never be taken away. It can be attacked, it can be bruised, it can even be sick, but it will never again be dead to God. Faith on the other hand is a tricky thing. It can be weakened, misapplied, misdirected, ship-wrecked, or killed. yes, for true believers Faith will never have its coffin nailed but it can be challenged greatly. Typically, when someone is struggling to find joy, if you ask them where Christ is in their situation you will be met with blank stares. In order to have true Joy, Faith must be held onto to and not just any faith but Faith in Jesus Christ. When it comes to the great battle of faith, there is no battle like when one is looking at the face of death.
Through sickness and pain unimaginable, My friend Oakley was joyful. I have had the privilege of being his Gospel (Church) Community Group leader for three years, and if I were asked to give one word to describe him, it would be “joy.” Joy marked Oakley’s life because his Faith marked his life. Without the faith, there would not have been the joy. Oakley truly believed that he was sinner redeemed by the death of Christ. Oakley knew that though he was a sinner, he was covered in the righteousness of Christ which was given to him as a gift through faith. Oakley looked forward to the Resurrection of the body where he would be given his legs back and the sickness that ravaged his body would be no more. Oakley had pneumonia seven times in the past year. I remember him telling me several months back,
“I can’t wait for heaven, there’ll be no pneumonia there!”
Oakley’s last days were marked by joy. Oakley finished well. Oakley finished well not because he simply met death with Joy and Faith. Oakley finished well because he lived by Faith and joy. Oakley’s life is what has sealed his place in the hall of faith and not simply his death. As I conclude these reflections, I am reminded of a conversation I had with Oakley when he first joined my community group. He had been in our group for several months, and he was admitted to the hospital due to some health issues. As he sat on the bed and I sat beside him he said to me,
“Kyle, I am ready to go be with the Lord if he calls me. However, I don’t mind sticking around for awhile for the fellowship.”
The Last day I went to visit Oakley in the Hospital, I reminded him of this meeting, and he remembered it well. I told him that I was going to read him a text that encapsulated his life to the church since the moment I’ve known him. I read the following,
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26).
I explained to Oakley that it would’ve been good for him to go and be with the Lord all those years ago when he told me he was ready, but that God had kept him around for our sake. We needed him. My Church needed him; my community group needed him, I needed him. Christ’s people needed Oakley for there was still more left for him to teach us regarding how to fight for joy. With tears in his eyes, Oakley reassured me that from his perspective; he was the one who benefitted because he received a few more years of fellowship. After expressing thankfulness to God for his Church and his faith family’s consistent visitations, he went to sleep. That would be the last conversation I would have with my dear friend. Oakley, Because of you I have greater cause to glory in Christ Jesus. The battle is over for you brother as your joy has finally been made perfect. When I am in the midst of my battle for Faith and Joy and I am feeling weak, I will remember your voice encouraging me, “Fight the good fight, believe upon the Lord Jesus!” I will fight for unwavering joy and always remember the beauty of watching you finish well. I marvel at the Lord’s kindness in giving me you as a friend.
Rest In Peace, Dear Brother
For His Glory,
Kyle J. Howard
You can follow me on Twitter @KyleJamesHoward. Also, check out my podcast “Coram Deo Podcast” which focuses on issues concerning Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology. You can search for podcast on any major podcast catcher, listen on the web here, follow updates @CoramDeoPodcast, or just click the artwork below.
Kyle J. Howard currently serves the church as a Christian counselor. He is a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his associate degree in biblical/theological studies and a bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling. He currently lives in Atlanta & is finishing an advanced M. Divinity in Historical Theology and ultimately desires to pastor.