“In the world you will have trouble . . .” – John 16:33.
Jesus was on his predictive A-game with this one, wasn’t he? Every person reading this article has had trouble in their life, does have trouble in their life, and will have trouble in their life. Though the intensity of it varies from season to season, difficulty, unfortunately, is an inescapable aspect of living in a cursed world. Surely there are glimpses of goodness to be seen and joyful experiences to be had. God’s common grace ensures that life is not a long sequence of uninterrupted drudgery. But you would have to be delusional (and many are suffering from sin’s delusional effects) to believe that existence in this world is an overall pleasant experience.
Perhaps those of us who love Jesus feel the pangs of our broken world most acutely. We are the firstfruits of God’s new creation (James 1:18), which means the Holy Spirit has introduced to our souls a foretaste of the perfect, heavenly world that is to come. As we experience in small measure the pleasure that a world rid of sin and filled with God’s presence will bring, we groan with eager longing (Romans 8:23) for the day when Jesus breaks through the clouds and spills his curse-destroying, trouble-expelling glory over all the earth. But we don’t know when he will arrive. It could be tomorrow afternoon or it might be 100, 1200, or even 10,000 years from now. So, we wait. We endure the trouble. We entrust ourselves to Jesus, believing that his grace is sufficient to sustain us and that our hearts will find his comfort and love to be enough.
To be honest, there are times I don’t feel secure enough in Christ to say those things with confidence. I worry that there will come a time or a trial when he won’t sustain me or when my heart fails to find comfort in all that he is. When I envision the possibility of suffering persecution for his sake, I have no doubt that he will empower me and that my heart will find him overwhelmingly sufficient. But when I envision myself walking through hardships not related to the gospel or even through consequences of my own sinful or stupid decisions, I wonder if Jesus will remain committed to me. I wonder if despair will eclipse my love for him and my joy in him, leaving me unable to sincerely say, “Christ is enough.”
Will he really sustain me? Will he really be enough for me?
He will absolutely sustain me. Nothing can snatch me out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29) or separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39). The whole of the New Testament teaches that those who are in Christ are forever in Christ. Jesus is faithful to sustain his beloved brothers (Hebrews 2:11) in any and every trial they face, whether that trial be brought about by their faithfulness to the gospel or by their faithlessness in making sinful, reckless choices. Will he allow us to share in his sufferings? Yes. Will he sometimes allow us to walk in the consequences of our bad decisions in order to discipline us? Yes. Will he ever forsake us or let our faith utterly fail? Not a chance in Heaven. If we trust in Christ, we can know with concrete certainty that he is unashamedly and eternally committed to us. He will not let us fall away.
But while Jesus sustains my faith through hard times, will I truly have joy in him and be at peace in him? I think that depends.
Jesus is objectively enough. Being the fullness of God embodied, he is the most valuable and satisfying entity in existence. “In your presence there is fullness of joy . . . at your right hand are pleasures forever more!”- Psalm 16:11. And every kind of strength—including strength to love and enjoy God while enduring painful circumstances and emotions—finds its home in him. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26. Jesus, again, is objectively enough.
But will Jesus always be enough for me? In times of trial and trouble, will my heart be in a strong enough state that I will experience authentic joy and peace in him? I suspect that, at the very least, I will be able to intellectually assent to the objective truth that simply knowing Christ is sufficient cause for unsurpassable joy and peace. However, I think the degree to which I will actually feel his joy and peace is largely dependent on the extent to which I have trained my heart to abide in him.
Let’s say that, hypothetically (or maybe not-so-hypothetically!), I were currently going through the motions in my relationship with Jesus. Let’s say that I served in the church, read my bible every morning, and wrote about Jesus on my blog, but outside of those things, the affections of my heart were generally set on the things of this world. For example, let’s say—uhumm, hypothetically—that when I had the opportunity to either get in some extra time with the Lord or veg out on Netflix, I often chose the latter route. If my “abiding” in Christ continued at this bare minimum level and my affections generally remained geared in the world’s direction, I would likely find it difficult to feel Jesus is enough when undesirable circumstances came knocking at my door. Could I begin training my heart to abide in Christ in the midst of those undesirable circumstances? Sure. It would be difficult but definitely doable.
However, there is a better option.
Let’s say that, starting today, I began to repent of my “hypothetical” misplacement of affections. Let’s say that I resolved to continually position myself before the Holy Spirit so that my intellectual belief in Christ’s sufficiency could evolve into a felt-reality in my life. Let’s say that, henceforth, I were to diligently seek to find my highest gladness and deepest peace in Jesus—more often choosing prayer over Netflix, etc. If I were to train to my mind to be ever-looking to Jesus, and if I were to train my heart to be ever-abiding in Jesus, I would be so built up in all his fullness that that no trial or trouble would be able to throw me into utter despair. The trouble would hurt. The trials would be unpleasant. But they wouldn’t be able to lay a finger on the God-centered joy and peace that have been infused into my heart by means of my active friendship with Christ.
Jesus made some staggering promises in John chapters 14-17.