Finding Joy in Strange Places
Dr. Jim Denison
Americans lead the world in consumption of aspirin, and in physical problems caused by stress. Depression is a very real issue in our country and culture.
More than 35 million Americans take Prozac. By 2020 depression will likely be the world’s second-most disabling disease, after heart disease. The World Health Organization already ranks depression as first in prevalence among females and fourth overall.
Uncertainty about our political future has sent stocks tumbling and consumer confidence sliding. Many are pessimistic about our financial future over the coming months. Many are discouraged.
And the upcoming holidays make things even harder for many. 41% of Americans say they find the holidays stressful. There are entire ministries and psychological support groups which exist to get people through the holidays. Family, finances, and time pressures are hard, and those who have experienced the loss of a loved one have an especially difficult time.
We all need joy, especially in these days.
Where can we find true joy, a deep-seated sense of tranquility and serenity in the face of challenging times? In the unlikeliest of places, from a subject which typically causes us more fear and angst than joy and delight. As we begin a three-week emphasis on global missions, ministry, and evangelism, I wish today to make this single point: your greatest joy will be found in sharing Jesus with others. Your greatest sense of significance, purpose, and fulfillment is waiting for you, right here. Let’s see why this is so, and what this fact means for your life and mine.
How the first evangelists found their joy
Jesus is coming near the end of his earthly ministry, and has now set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross. But there is one last group of cities and peoples he has not yet touched—the Jews and Gentiles who live to the east of the Jordan river, outside Israel itself, the area called the Trans-Jordan. Self-respecting Jews would not go over there. But Jesus did.
On his way, he sent seventy of his followers ahead (v. 1). Why seventy? Because there were seventy nations among the Gentiles, according to Genesis 10. One per nation, figuratively.
He “sent” them—this is the word for “apostle,” one sent with the authority of another and on his behalf.
He sent them “two by two,” because we are to do ministry together.
He sent them to “every town and place” because everyone matters to him. 2 Peter 3.9 is clear: God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
“Where he was about to go.” We are “advance men” for Jesus. Our job is simply to get people ready to meet him.
Now comes the good news: “The harvest is plentiful” (v. 2). Jesus saw the harvest when he was up in Galilee (Matthew 9), and in Samaria as well (John 4). And now with these Gentiles across the Jordan River. Everywhere he looked he saw a harvest ready to be reaped. So should we.
Keith Parks, the former head of the International Mission Board, has said that more nations are open to the gospel today than at any time in Christian history.
We hear stories of 28,000 conversations every day in sub-Saharan Africa; of 20,000 a day in Communist China. South Korea had perhaps not a single Christian a century ago; now the nation is one-third born-again.
Closer to home, we see a hunger for spirituality beyond any in memory. Television shows such as the one on Genesis this week, movies, newspapers and books and magazines all focus on spiritual things regularly.
George Barna’s surveys indicate that one-fourth of those who do not go to church would come if only someone would invite them. Imagine 25,000 lost people here next week—Jesus does.
So what are we to do about this harvest field, just waiting to be reaped?
Pray first: “Ask the Lord of the harvest …” We can do much for God after we pray, but nothing until we pray.
Then go (v. 3). This is Jesus’ command, addressed in the second person plural to every Christian. No exceptions, no options.
Go in his power. We are “lambs among wolves,” and our only protection is in staying close to our Shepherd. Do not depend on your own resources such as a purse or bag or sandals (v. 4a). Do not be distracted by others (4b).
Go wherever you are welcome (v. 5). Build relationships—”eat what is set before you” (v. 8). They would be Jews in Gentile homes, offered non-kosher food. Eat it—make friends—build relationships.
Meet the needs you find: “Heal the sick who are there” (9a). Earn the right to tell the good news of God’s love, by showing them your love.
Ultimately, tell them about Jesus: “The kingdom of God is near you” (9b). Tell them about Jesus. Invite them to enter his kingdom, through faith in him as Savior and Lord. Wherever you go, the Kingdom and the King go as well. Invite them to Jesus.
Will everyone come? No: “when you enter a town and are not welcomed …” (v. 10). We will be rejected by some. But they do not reject us—they reject our King: “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (16).
When we share our faith, we feel as though we are on trial and the one with whom we are speaking is the prosecutor, trying to show us how wrong we are. In truth, Jesus is on trial. Satan is the prosecutor; the Holy Spirit is the defense attorney; the person with whom you are speaking is the jury. You are simply a witness, called to the stand to tell what you know. You may be the first witness, and leave the courtroom without a verdict; you may be the last witness, and watch the jury decide for Jesus. But he is on trial, not you. Just tell what you know.