By Michael E. Brooks
“I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart” (Romans 9:1-2 NKJV).
“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:10-11).
As we prepare to depart the U.S. once again for an extended stay in South Asia I find myself to be very much of two minds. On the one hand I am eager to return to a fruitful and productive field where many are anxious to hear the message of Jesus Christ. I know that I will see close friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I will once again go to beautiful places and have enormously enjoyable experiences in travel and work.
At the same time it is with a measure of reluctance that I prepare to leave my home here in the U.S. There are family, friends and fellow Christians whom I will miss greatly. Spring is about to break out everywhere with great beauty and pleasurable weather. Work here is just as rewarding and enjoyable as what I will do overseas. As much as I want to go, I also find myself thinking how wonderful it would be to stay here a little longer.
As one reads the Scriptures he finds many examples of such contradictory thinking. Paul himself admited that he did not know how to pray with regard to his imprisonment and upcoming trial. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell” (Philippians 1:21-22).
In Romans the Apostle described himself as filled with great sorrow because of the lost condition of the majority of his countrymen, the nation of Israel. Yet in Philippians he affirms that he is content whatever his circumstance, and even rejoices greatly.
It is obvious that the human spirit is capable of feeling both joy and sorrow simultaneously. I believe many of us have forgotten or are unaware of that fact. We believe that if there is any cause for sorrow we cannot possibly be happy. Conversely, if we as Christians are commanded to “Rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4), then it is sinful, or at least inappropriate, for us to ever feel sadness. Such misunderstandings may create confusion, doubt, and even depression.
How many grieving persons feel that life will never be worth living again after the death of a beloved spouse or child? How many sinners feel they can never be forgiven because of some terrible mistake? In each case great sorrow is believed to eliminate any possibility of future joy. This is tragic and completely unnecessary.
Paul’s sorrow at the lost condition of many of his friends and fellow Jews was real. But so was his overall condition of contentment. His confusion as to which was better — death or life — was also genuine. But he had no trouble acting with decisive faith and conviction at all times.
How do we manage such conflicts? Paul managed his by a disciplined will which determined to see good in everything; by strong and unwavering trust in God; and by living for Christ and for others, rather than simply for himself. If we will follow his example we too can overcome those occasional conflicts.
By Michael E. Brooks