Many years ago my wife, Barbara, and I read the classic book, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, to our then-7-year-old son. (Where has the time gone?!) In the story, Christian is journeying on the straight and narrow path to the celestial city. On his way he encounters many situations that parallel our lives as believers.
One of my most vivid recollections from the book occurred during a time when Christian was travelling with a fellow-sojourner named Hopeful. As they journeyed, they grew tired and decided to take a rest. Lying down in a meadow just off the path, Christian and Hopeful quickly fell asleep. While they were sleeping a giant named Despair awakened them and forced them to return with him to his castle. There he put them into his dungeon.
Once Christian and Hopeful were incarcerated, the giant showed them no mercy. He beat them. He refused to give them food or water. He showed them the bones of pilgrims who had died there before them. He even offered them poison to drink so that they could end their suffering. He tried to convince them that they may as well consume the toxic drink because they were going to die there like so many before them. At one point Christian was so distressed that he almost drank the poison, but Hopeful talked him out of it.
Finally, Christian remembered that earlier in the journey he had been given a key, known as the Key of Promise. When he remembered the key he quickly tried it in the lock of the dungeon door. With a bit of work he opened the door and Christian and Hopeful walked out, free.
Not long after reading this story I was given some very distressing news about our ministry’s finances. Since, for all practical purposes, the ministry consists of Barbara and me, this news definitely affected me. It is not necessary to go into details, but suffice it to say that I was anxious. I was extremely worried about the final outcome.
The day after I received the news I was in our home office working on a computer. Because of the worry about our finances, my usual typing action was replaced by a rather pronounced banging on the keys of the computer keyboard. I made no attempt to hide the fact that I was upset. My wife, sensing my anxiety, said, “That giant, Despair, has really got a hold of you, hasn’t he? Did you check your pocket for any keys?” With that particular illustration so recent and so vivid, her comment should have been enough to cause me to change my attitude. However, this particular day, I was not just anxious, I was engulfed in anxiety.
Because I did not respond in the way she had hoped, a while later she began to hum a chorus. I knew the words very well and realized that the song was directed at me. The lyrics are:
God is bigger than all my problems,
bigger than all my fears.
God is bigger than any mountain
that I can or cannot see.
I finally realized she was right. She was inviting me to choose joy. She knew I could still have joy even in the midst of that very worrisome time. Guided by her promptings, I jumped up from my desk and, in a very positive way, said, “Okay, I’m getting it!” Right then and there I chose joy. I made the decision not to allow the joy-thief—anxiety—to steal away my joy. The situation was still the same, but my heart was changed. That change of heart made all the difference. I chose to live above the circumstances in life by choosing the joy of the Lord.