‘You must be so bitter,’ his interviewer questioned. ‘They have robbed you of thirty years of your life.’
It was his answer that arrested me. ‘No,’ he affirmed. ‘I won’t allow anything to rob me of my joy.’
In those thirty years when it must have cost the state thousands of pounds to guard him from escape, he was busy guarding his own heart against bitterness and anger, and now he had spoken into my heart.
I listened later to hear his testimony again, and also looked it up on the internet, but I did not find these words repeated. It seems the media wants to keep God out, but I had heard his words and I am determined to share them where and when ever I can.
I was challenged. Am I always full of joy, or do I allow the enemy to come and rob me of my inheritance? I have learned, the hard way, to guard my purse, so may I, through Winston’s amazing testimony learn to let nothing rob me of my joy.
Jesus not only left us peace as our inheritance, but he said, Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.
For many years I knew God wanted me to go as a missionary. I thought it would be very hard, but God gave me a wonderful promise; a promise of joy and peace. Single and going alone, I realised that many women had a husband, children, a fine house in a civilised land, but without joy and peace they had nothing.
So I eventually went to work in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. Many times I would remind God of his promise of joy, and he is faithful. He always answered.
Now, back in UK, and struggling with widowhood and old age, I still do a lot of asking and God does a lot of answering, anointing with the oil of gladness.
We were young, not long out of college when one of our friends was struggling with a broken relationship. I was ready to encourage her in her self-pity, but Esther spoke out strongly, that nothing can rob us of our joy except sin. She quoted the parable of the prodigal son. When he had confessed his sin and returned in repentance to the Father, ‘they began to be merry.’
I still have to remember this lesson. If we are indulging in self-pity, then it is self who is on the throne and not Jesus. But thank God, he is only a prayer away and we are immediately forgiven, restored, and able to rejoice without ceasing.
So what is it that can steal our joy? We can only imagine the devastation of the disciples when they had seen the Saviour killed and buried but, thank God, we can experience the joy of Easter morning when Jesus appeared and gave them the glad assurance that he had conquered death and hell, and that through the Holy Spirit they would always know that he was with them.
So is there anything that can steal our joy? Can tribulation, hardship, famine, or other unspeakable suffering? Paul assured us that in all these things we are more than conquerors, and God is able to take the worst the enemy can do against us and turn it into a testimony, even as he is doing for Anthony Ray Winston. And so we, like Paul and Silas in jail at Philippi, can always sing joyful songs of praise to God.
Yet, even so, there may be days when we seem to be smothered in a blanket of depression; and when we even may have to accept the help of medication.
In my teens I suffered from depression. I thought this was caused by guilt and so looked round for the cause, but once I came to know Jesus as my Saviour, he helped me to put right whatever was wrong, and so, knowing I was right with him, I had to wait for him to heal me from what was physical depression.
Soon after my husband died I had been to a house group and then struggled against wind and weather to return to my car. ‘Oh Lord,’ I complained, ‘I don’t like being a widow.’ The next moment it was as if Jesus was beside me and we were laughing together. I realised how awful it would be if we did like being widows. Now I tell people, God does not take away the pain, but he does give joy and peace. Hallelujah.
God’s gift to us all is contentment. It was in my single days in New Guinea that he taught me to claim his word and to say, ‘I am delighting myself in the Lord and he is giving me the desires of my heart.’ I am still affirming this truth.
I wonder what Ray Winston’s testimony is, of how he survived that terrible ordeal, - of 30 years, made up of long, long days of living on death row, but this little poem written some years ago, tells how God has so often come to me in answer to my cry for his joy.
Joy is a fountain, springing, though the land is parched and dry,
Joy is a lighted window for the child who’s far from home,
A hand upon your shoulder when you think you’re left alone.
Joy is a skylark thrilling, rainbow’s circle in a storm,
The promise of God’s presence and his strength for each new morn.
Joy is the tug of anchor when storms sweep you from the shore,
A voice from deep within that speaks of life for evermore.
Joy is the sight of heaven given the Saviour on the cross
The certainty that Jesus will bring blessing out of loss.
Joy is Jesus!