For the first time in quite a while I paid a visit to a sauna. With my present heart condition, I have been very cautious with such visits, after a Doctor at a hospital said I could bathe in a sauna, but to keep away from the wet rooms. So, as the Christmas and New Year festivities fade into oblivion for the next twelve months, I sat within earshot of a conversation held between two middle age men, both with generous waistlines and sagging chins which seem to indicate that they have little or no experience of food deprivation, neither having ridden a bicycle or even engaged in some physical exertion since leaving school.
But flying in an airplane, according to my own eavesdropping, was certainly an annual ritual for them, as they discussed between themselves of another trip to the Atlantic island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and how their coming holiday was already booked up with all systems go. I guess this is a reflection of the national post-Christmas mood. Short days, long nights, cold and wet weather, threats of ice and snow, flooding, gale-force winds, and freezing fog obscuring vision to just a few metres in front of the car windscreen, on the morning commute to the office, already made late by an unexpected traffic queue caused by a truck jackknifing a mile ahead on the motorway. With such stresses, little wonder that our National Health Service is under strain, particularly in the Accident & Emergency departments.
This is the time of the year when holiday websites are near to crashing as the nation on the whole reach out for something to grasp hold of, something it can look forward to and cherish - the three-dimensional view within the imagination of clear blue skies, the turquoise sea lapping on the golden sand beach, perhaps backed with palm trees, and even a mountain range in the background, or of forested cliffs plunging into the sea as the little cove lies between two headlands, far from the day-to-day drab of responsibility and toil. Indeed, I recall reading the result of a survey which indicated that January is the least appreciated month of the year. I may be a rare exception for rating November as the most dull month, as the days continue to shorten, and the weather continues to get colder and wetter - even after the month gives way to December. At least with January the days are starting to lengthen, which becomes more obvious as the month progresses. Or maybe this is an opinion which grew from having an outdoor occupation.
And going back to the National Health Service, a wonderful institution where national taxation has created a common purse from which all treatments, from a dressing for a grazed knee to a major heart operation - is given free to the patient, yet taken for granted by the population as a whole. The NHS has been in the news lately for its inability to cope with the seasonal influx of patients needing attention as a result of Winter, most of them elderly. As for myself, having sprained my back muscles while at work last week, I had to endure frequent sharp stabs of pain in my lower abdomen for three to four days, yet this was matched by my determination to get the week's work completed on time.
Then the forthcoming cardiac operation. At present I'm on the waiting list, and I could be called in at any time. But I wish it could be as simple as that! Rather, on the day of the op, the likelihood of an emergency admission of another patient taking up my slot could result in me being sent home untreated. Not very encouraging after booking (and paying for) accommodation for my wife and a friend to stay at the hospital grounds while I'm in the theatre. Neither would such a dismissal be of any help after setting up temporary benefits to tide us over the period of convalescence, which could be as long as three months, as I have always been the sole breadwinner in our household.
If concerns about my health was enough to worry about, then browsing the Internet can be risky business if being gullible enough to be a soft target. One click on a pop-up panel warning me that a facility on the laptop needs attention, and wolla! I have opened a Pandora's Box of malware, a program which I could not uninstall, providing a gateway for dozens of unwanted ads to pop up on the screen, rendering the computer useless. Fortunately, I have a good friend, a computer professional, who attends a different church to the one I go to, who came round to my home, spent a couple of hours looking through the computer, then deciding to take it away to his home. There is the possibility that the entire disk has to be completely cleared of all software then rebuilt from scratch.
And so the fear, anxiety and depression engulfs me, and they tend to exaggerate the problems I have. I have felt naked fear take a grip on me, usually during the early hours of the morning as my concern for the coming operation grows. I know that this will be a routine op, many patients went through the experience and came out well at the other end. Then again, I have always believed that there is always the first time failure strikes...
So the shabby witness I present of my faith in Jesus Christ. Any observing unbeliever would have the right to ask; Where is this Jesus Christ I claim to profess? He could even go a step further and ask where is this joy in the Holy Spirit? If there ever was a time when this particular fruit had gone on a long vacation, I think this would be it. Yet I see and hear other people talking about their booked holidays, I see others doing well at work and at home. On the roads there is a growing number of fast sports cars, in church there are many smiling, happy looking faces as they have successfully raised their children, and their high incomes providing security for their homes. Also at our church there are students whose futures appears to look bright.
I could sit down and simmer with envy. But I don't. One secret of a healthy spiritual life is thankfulness, to recognise the goodness of God in my life, and be content with that. If joy means intensive happiness regardless of circumstance, then there are times, quite frequent times, that I don't have it. But a related fruit of the Spirit which does seem to be more prevalent in my life is peace. The presence of this fruit over-rides any feelings of envy towards those more fortunate than myself. Peace is also knowing that all my sins are forgiven, and I'm seen by God as equally righteous as Jesus himself. Because that is true. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed into my account. And because Jesus had never sinned while he was here, his righteousness is eternal. As a result, I will never lose my salvation, neither can I walk away from it. Now that is something to be joyful about.
When a woman who had five failed marriages met Jesus while drawing water from a well, she never felt the burden of guilt settle on her. Instead she joyfully ran out to the street and told anyone within hearing that she had met the Jewish Messiah. The same applied to Zacchaeus who Jesus called down from a Sycamore tree, and he was glad to have him dine at his house. Then what can be said for Paul and Silas, locked in prison without trial? These two were so joyful that their singing of praise to God resulted in the jailer's conversion. Even Peter, although he didn't sing while he was imprisoned, yet the peace which flooded his soul allowed him to sleep instead of tossing and turning throughout the night with anxiety.
I think real joy comes through knowing where we stand with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Joy is irrespective of circumstance, because it stems from knowing who we are and where we are in Christ. And for this to become realistic, I must reject any teaching indicating that I can lose my salvation if I don't hold faithful or walk away. These teachings, when considered as a possibility, has put me under the Law, which brings knowledge of sin. The Law kills. And toying with the idea that these Cambridge Dons could be right in what they believe and teach because of their vast education, had taken away both peace and joy. In the circumstances I'm in, especially regarding my health, these false teachers are the very least of my needs. Dare they to take away my peace and joy in the Lord!
Or the possibility that God had never imputed the righteousness of Christ into my account at all, and I'm still lost in my sins. This sort of thinking usually comes from those who believe in Eternal Security of the Believer, but is often entwined with a sinless life which is akin to being enslaved to the Law. In other words, "Oh, I have not overcome this particular sin, therefore I must still be lost." As one who believes in and advocate Eternal Security, this train of thought is my biggest weakness, rather than fear of losing my salvation. I have read websites created by those who believe in Eternal Security, and rather than feel the assurance, I have felt my peace slip away. Therefore I consider wise not to click on those sites anymore.
To be all and end all, I think the one and only reason why I lack joy in my life is because I constantly look on myself instead of looking at Jesus Christ. When I look on myself, I see the Law transgressed. When I look on Jesus Christ, I see his righteousness imputed into my life account, and God sees Jesus in me, and therefore loves me as dearly as he loves his own Son.
Now that is something to be joyful about!