I am not sure if it was just a particularly vivid memory, or a vision, but recently I felt myself transported to the pews in Greenock Elim, the Church where I was brought up. In this memory / vision I must have been about 5 and was standing next to my mum. The congregation started singing a hymn. It was a hymn that they always sang with great gusto, in Scotland we would say they were really belting it out. This was a song that meant a great deal to these people whom I knew really well, they were singing in a way that suggested to me the words were expressing their experiences.
The song was an old Gospel Song type hymn called THERE IS JOY IN SERVING JESUS. I have reproduced the lyrics below.
1 There is joy in serving Jesus,
As I journey on my way,
Joy that fills the heart with praises,
Ev’ry hour and ev’ry day.
There is joy, joy,
Joy in serving Jesus,
Joy that throbs within my heart;
Ev’ry moment, ev’ry hour,
As I draw upon His power,
There is joy, joy,
Joy that never shall depart.
2 There is joy in serving Jesus,
Joy that triumphs over pain,
Fills my soul with heaven’s music,
Till I join the glad refrain. [Refrain]
3 There is joy in serving Jesus,
As I walk alone with God.
‘Tis the joy of Christ, my Savior,
Who the path of suffering trod. [Refrain]
4 There is joy in serving Jesus,
Joy amid the darkest night.
For I’ve learned the wondrous secret,
And I’m walking in the light. [Refrain]
There is joy in serving Jesus,
I have to confess that there was a time when I had a sort of theological snobbish disdain for this hymn. I remember a lecturer in Bible College describing it as a “little dittie” However, after this memory coming back to me, I have reread the lyrics and thought about who was singing them and I have a new appreciation for this old song now.
I want to highlight some of the lines for you
“Joy that triumphs over pain,” “Joy amid the darkest night.”
Those lines talk about experiencing joy in the midst of life’s tough times, of a joy experienced in suffering.
I need to tell you about the people who were belting out these lines like they really meant them. My memory comes from the late 1960s and the people around me in those pews had lived through the worst of the 20th century. Some of them had lived through WW1 and had lost brothers, friends and fathers in the blood bath of the western front. My mum and dad’s generation had been brought up through the grinding poverty of the great depression when the shipyards had been closed and huge numbers of men were unemployed. One of my dad’s best friends in church had bowed legs because of the poor diet he had had as a child in the 1920/30s. Then there was WW2, the area around that church was bombed heavily over 2 nights in 1941. Many members of the church emerged from the bomb shelters to find their homes were smoking ruins. Some never emerged from the bomb shelters. A whole family was wiped out when a bomb hit their shelter, our communion table was given to the church in their memory. Let’s not forget that post war austerity in Scotland made life pretty tough, with rationing and low wages.
If all of that sounds pretty grim, it was. Yet it was the people who had lived through all of that who were singing with such conviction THERE IS JOY IN SERVING JESUS, JOY AMID THE DARKEST NIGHT These people knew all about dark nights, but they also knew all about the joy Jesus could bring in even the darkest period of their lives.
I think the Apostle Paul would have sung THERE IS JOY IN SERVING JESUS with equal gusto and conviction. Philippians is the most joyful book in the Bible, Paul uses the Greek words for joy and rejoicing sixteen times in only 104 verses. Yet Paul wrote that letter chained to a Roman soldier in a dingy Roman stinking prison knowing that the next person through the door could be his executioner.
Have a look at these verses I think they explain how people have experienced such tough times can talk about experiencing joy during them.
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! Phil 3:1
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Phil 4:4
Paul and the people of my home church weren’t masochists, they didn’t pretend that life wasn’t tough, yet they experienced joy because the source of that joy came from outside their circumstances, it was found not in what was happening in their lives, but in the Lord. They found JOY IN SERVING JESUS.
When I have got a bit down recently thinking that life is hard going and COVID has robbed me of a lot over these past 2 years I have been reminding myself that if Paul could find JOY IN SERVING JESUS in a Roman prison, if the people I was brought up with could find JOY IN SERVING JESUS in WW1, in the GREAT DEPRESSION, in WW2 and the CLYDESIDE BLITZ I can certainly find joy in my relationship with Jesus in 2021. I am pretty sure you can too and experience Joy that triumphs over pain,” Joy amid the darkest night.”
Take your eyes of your circumstances and focus on Jesus