There is a large canvas that has a prominent place on the mantelpiece above the fireplace in our living room. It is a photograph that was taken about a year ago while we were on a family holiday – the four of us – Austin (my husband) and our two children Shona and Daniel.
The smiles on our faces were genuine even though it was one of those photo shoots that you have to dress up smartly for. We had such fun together that whole week we were away for and it truly was a holiday to remember. For me the photograph is a constant reminder of the joy that we find in one another as a family. And on days when we are not together physically, the picture helps keep my family near in spite of the fact that they are miles away.
But it would be wrong to suppose that every day of our lives as individuals or as a family unit conforms to that same picture of joy and contentment. As we go through life, there are moments and days of such challenge that the joy seems but a distant memory. It can take huge effort to remember what it felt like to be full of contentment and fulfilment. The temptation is to allow ourselves go down the spiral of despair or self-pity. To look around at others whose lives appear to be without challenge or adversity and wish we could swap places.
On the opposite wall across from the canvas I mentioned earlier, is a large framed picture of a picturesque house in lovely grounds and with a view that takes your breath away. The picture has these words at the bottom: ‘ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It is a picture of the kind of house that I would love to have when I get to heaven. Simply stunning. These two images have been carefully chosen to grace the walls of our living room where we spend a lot of our time. What is the significance?
We all need a visual reminder of the things that bring us joy so that we can keep our focus on what really matters.
We learn from Jesus that what we choose to focus on will help determine how well we ride the storms of life.
Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering; and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-3 J.B Philips New Testament)
Jesus’ focus was not the cross, with its suffering, shame and separation from the Father. His focus was the resurrection and the millions that would become members of His family as a result.
A picture of joy.
What’s yours? What image do you have before you that makes you lift up your voice and give praise to God. What picture draws heartfelt gratitude from you? What promise from the Father causes hope to rise up in from deep within you?
What is your picture of joy?
‘Tis the season to be jolly,’ the song goes. And I agree. Christmas truly is a time of great joy as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus. It’s so easy to lose the real meaning of Christmas amidst the business and commercialisation of the season. Resist that. Don’t get caught up in the ‘doing’. Instead as you remember that Jesus came to the earth to rescue us from a life of hopelessness, this can be a great picture to focus on as you ‘endure’ whatever challenge or difficult situations may be threatening to steal your attention.
I cannot even begin to imagine what the cross must have been like. The movie, the Passion was gruesome to watch and yet even that I am sure does not depict fully what Jesus must have had to bear. None of us can comprehend what the cross really was like.
But it was nothing compared to the joy that lay ahead of Jesus.
Think about that for a moment. Nothing you see now can compare to the joy that is up ahead.
I know this may be hard to imagine. Our present often seems so real that trying to imagine a future that looks different be a herculean task. Even when my life is going pretty well there always seems to be someone else who is going through a difficult patch – a reminder that trials are a part of our existence on the earth. But we can decide where our focus will be.
Can I encourage you this Christmas, to choose to fix your gaze on your own picture of joy. Keep your eyes and mind fixed on it. Get yourself a visual aid like the pictures I have on my walls if it helps. It will give you the strength to go on like nothing else will.
Then because it is the season for giving gifts, find someone who needs lifting up and show them how to focus on their own picture of joy.