Friday, July 19, 2024
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When Joy Meets You In An Unexpected Place

Photo courtesy of Adam via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Adam via Flickr

When was the last time someone patted you on the back and said, “Don’t give up hope!”?

Memes, movies, testimonials, self-help books, friends and Bible verses all tell us to expect a rendezvous with joy.

We are told that we shouldn’t lose hope when life seems enveloped in darkness, disappointment, loss or uncertainty; but after enough gut-wrenching disappointments, it appears that the smart thing to do is to kick hope to the curb! Why should I expect joy in the morning when there have been plenty of mornings with no such thing?

Emily Brontë was brave enough to express some of her feelings that find an echo in my own heart when I’m reeling in disappointment:

Hope was but a timid friend;
She sat without the grated den,
Watching how my fate would tend,
Even as selfish-hearted men.
She was cruel in her fear;
Through the bars, one dreary day,
I looked to see her there,
And she turned her face away!
Like a false guard, false watch keeping,
Still, in strife, she whispered peace;
She would sing while I was weeping;
If I listened, she would cease.
False she was, and unrelenting…

Why wish for joy when disappointment is my daily bread? Maybe I’m confusing hope for wishful thinking. I’m tired of feeling foolish. Reality lays its heavy hand on the heart, and a rendezvous with joy seems far-fetched. Resignation enters the soul.

I wonder if a little bit of this resignation had wrapped itself around Peter’s heart as he returned from a thoroughly unsuccessful night of fishing (Luke 5).

I imagine that he had some hope of better luck in the future, but this 24-hour period was clearly a bust. Peter’s predicament might seem like a trivial matter, but think about working a 12-hour shift for nothing. I’d be pretty bummed. And if this happened many more times, I think I’d start to identify pretty closely with Emily Brontë’s idea of hope.

Do you ever feel like you’ve had your own unique version of Peter’s disappointing experience multiplied a hundredfold? I certainly do!

But Peter’s day turns out rather differently than he expected. The Teacher from Nazareth comes to the shore and asks to use Peter’s boat as a speaking platform. Peter has time to take Jesus out in the boat (I wonder if he would have been too busy selling his catch if his night fishing had been successful?), and he gets to sit beside the Messiah as He preaches to the crowds.

Had the previous night softened Simon Peter with the realization of his own limitations, preparing him for this unexpected chance to hear the Son of God? I wonder what struck him about this Nazarene during the few hours spent in the boat in His company. Why did Peter respond with such alacrity at Jesus’ strange command to launch out and lower the nets?

In those few hours, Simon Peter may have begun to trust.

Peter expressed the truth about reality—he told Jesus that their most recent fishing attempt had ended in disappointment. But at this Man’s direction, he was willing to appear foolish, even hopeful, by lowering the nets.

I wish I could have been there to see the shock on Peter’s face, to hear the amazed ejaculations of the other fishermen, to see the nets breaking under the strain of the fish, to feel the goosebumps rise on my tingling arms as I realize that this Teacher is the Son of God. To drop to my knees beside Peter and confess my unworthiness, to hear God Himself say, “Do not be afraid. I’m calling you to something greater—a partnership with Me.”

C.S. Lewis would have a phrase for this experience. He would call it “surprised by joy.”

I love that word, surprise. Serendipity—when joy meets you in an unexpected place. We long for these moments, yet we are afraid to hope for them when we’ve experienced agonizing disappointment and pain. Heartache that makes us wish we only had a bad night’s fishing to worry about. Long years of hope deferred.

If we could talk to Peter, who endured a whole lot of distressing experiences during his life as a disciple (and later as an Apostle), he wouldn’t try to comfort us with pious platitudes. And he would acknowledge the pain that we feel (1 Peter 1:6). He might encourage us with stories of God’s ability to rescue and surprise in the most unusual of ways, when we’re not expecting it.

But I especially think he would ask us to sit and ruminate in the stillness on this One we profess to love.

Not on what He is or is not doing. Not on how angry we might be.

Just a quiet meditation that might bring us back to this simple story which happened on the Sea of Galilee. With the wind whipping in our faces, the fish flopping at our feet, the boat sinking, and our hearts melting in worship and Jesus saying “Do not be afraid. I have a purpose for you. You will join me in reaching people.”

And as we think on Him, faith begins to increase, and joy surprises us in this unexpected place. Peter calls it “joy that is inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

And as our trust in this God of surprises begins to revive, I think Peter would wink and whisper, “Don’t be afraid to lower the nets if He asks you to.”

About Sarah Morrison

Sarah has always loved other cultures, and dreamt of Asia from the time she was a teenager. She thought she'd work in some remote tribal village, but ended up teaching English to university students in China. She fell so much in love with her students that it took her five years to say goodbye. In 2013, she returned to the States to be near her family and see if God had stateside plans for her. In 2015, God surprised her with the gift of marrying David Lewis. Sarah now teaches ESL to international students. She loves books, coffee shops and relational ministry. She occasionally blogs at
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