How can you be a joyful disciple in all circumstances? How can you avoid unnecessary tears? Here’s a bunch of keys:
Key one: Recognise the presence of Jesus in negative circumstances (14, 15). Learn to see Him there with you. Admittedly, this may take time, and will not be possible without the Lord’s own gracious revelation. Nevertheless, for our part, we can believe that there are no wasted situations, and discipline ourselves to look for Jesus at work when He most seems absent. Pray that you will see ‘’Jesus standing there’’ in the midst of your pain, and recognise Him.
Key two: Question yourself (15a). In other words, counsel yourself. Ask, ‘’Why?’’ ‘’Why are you feeling (thinking, acting) like this? If this other reality is true; if Jesus is alive; then ‘Why?’ Why the downcast eyes and the down turned mouth? Why?” There is a precedent for this taking yourself in hand approach in the psalms. For example: ‘’Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’’ (Psalm 42:5, 11; Psalm 43:5). Many years ago, a preacher friend painted a verbal picture, and it has remained on the canvas of my heart,unfaded, ever since. He said, ‘It’s like the psalmist takes his soul out of his body and gives it a good talking to.’ Learn to preach to a congregation of one – YOU! On occasions, we may need other people to ask these questions of us. Sometimes we will need the courage to ask such questions of others. I’m still working on this in the belief that good questions can be more helpful than good answers. A well fashioned, well-timed question can leave you seeing the irrationality of your feelings, the implausibility of your thoughts, and the unbelief in your behaviour.
Key three: To have real joy and peace you must see who Jesus is. You cannot live the Christian life to the fullest while you remain mistaken about His identity (15). If you think Jesus is someone other than who He actually is, you will have problems. Bad theology leads to bad living. (However, consider this: ‘’Mary’s intuitive guess, that he must be the gardener, was wrong at one level and right, deeply right, at another. This is the new creation. Jesus is the beginning of it. Remember Pilate: ‘Here’s the man!’ Here he is: the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order, into flower, into fruitfulness. He has come to uproot the thorns and thistles and replace them with blossoms and harvests.’’ Tom Wright: ‘John for everyone, part two,’p.146.)
Key four: Listen out for the Word of Christ. Live your life daily close to the sound of His voice. One word from the Lord can be life-changing. Eugene Peterson makes the point that prayer is always an answering word – the Word of God comes first. In the last twenty four hours I have been discovering afresh how powerful it is to take the Bible and turn it into prayer. Much of what I’m writing today has come from what I’ve seen in praying the Scriptures.
Key five: Submit to Christ as Lord (17, 18). ‘’Do whatever he tells you’’ (John 2:5). Mary’s ‘agenda’ was not a bad one. It was born of love and adoration for Jesus. She wanted to cling to Him. But Jesus’ agenda for her was different. This was now a new day. Their relationship would be on a different footing. She would need to relate to Him ‘’after the flesh’’ no longer. He wanted her to ‘’Go…and tell…’’ Tom Wright, thinking about the prejudice against women in that day, makes the observation that anyone wanting to invent this story would not make a woman the ‘star’ of the show, and especially not a woman like Mary Magdalene.
It’s been said that, ‘’God loves you, and people have a wonderful plan for your life.’’ Sometimes we too have to resist other people’s well meaning plans for us. Jesus Christ is Lord, and His is the only agenda which counts. ‘’Do whatever he tells you.’’