I don’t like persecution. Not that I’ve ever suffered anything even remotely like the persecution saints experienced in the New Testament – or continue to experience today in some parts of the world – but even the little bit that I have experienced – generally, name calling, strange stares, etc. – has been enough that I don’t like it. In Acts 13, though, I ran across an interesting account. As Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey, they came to the city of Pisidion Antioch and began to preach to the synagogue there. When a large crowd began to follow Paul, Barnabas, and ultimately Jesus, we learn in verse 45 that the Jewish leaders became jealous and confronted Paul about it, compelling the apostle to proclaim, “It was necessary that God’s message be spoken to you first. But since you reject it and consider yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles!” It was a watershed moment for Paul’s ministry and the Church, but when they continued to meet success, it was also the direct cause of some serious trouble: “The Jews incited the prominent women, who worshiped God, and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district” (50 HCSB).

In other words, Paul and Barnabas were literally driven out of town by the persecution. In my book, that’s a bad day. But today, I notice two things that came from this persecution and apparent failure that I think are important lessons for me as I continue in my study of joy.

The first is that, though they had seemingly failed miserably to see Pisidion Antioch turn to the Lord, Paul, Barnabas, and co. shook the dust off their sandals and went on to the next city undeterred.

How often do I find myself in a similar situation? I encountered some resistance, maybe even had to give up on accomplishing something that I had really set my heart on. And so I beat myself up. And convince myself that it had been crazy to think that I could do that. I had been silly to even try. But Paul and company, instead of doing any of that, shook the dust off their feet and wen on to Iconium to continue their trip and minister there.

Persecution is not grounds to give up. In fact, no failure ever is grounds to give up. Instead, I need to get up, shake myself off, and move on. And I think it plays an essential part in enabling the second important lesson that I see in this passage:

Joy can flow even in the midst of – and perhaps even out of – persecution and failure. In verse 52, we read that “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Even after this failure, Paul and those with him experienced joy. And even in the midst of this persecution – which in all likelihood did not stop for the new believers left behind – the disciples had joy. But notice how much joy they had. It wasn’t a little. Or even a bunch. No, they were “filled with joy.”

Persecution and failure do not detract from real joy. In fact, I think you could probably make an argument that real joy is actually refined, purified, and even strengthened in such moments as the happiness bit is drained away and we are left relying on that foundational sense that God will work all things out for the good of those who love Him and all this really will  pale in comparison to the reward we’ll receive in glory.

So, there we have it. Two insights into the nature of joy that I needed to read.


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