This story beautifully illustrates the reason why those who follow Jesus Christ possess a joy and inner peace in spite of the darkness and despair in the world around them. Today we are constantly bombarded with stories of tragedy and disaster on the news. We live in the age of terrorism, moral collapse, corruption, wars and rumours of wars; we live in an age of profound wickedness and evil. However, across this valley of gloom those with faith see a Light shining which no despair or evil can quench. This Light is the truth that God deeply loves them and cares for them intimately. This knowledge provides an unquenchable source of joy and peace of mind which nothing can ever take away.
One of God's promised gifts to His followers is this gift of inner joy, and seeing this joy in the faithful has often led others to turn to Christ. The story is told of a Christian who was on board a cruise liner heading to be the pastor of a foreign church. The captain of the ship was an embittered opponent of Christianity and often took delight in arguing with people who had a strong Christian faith. One evening the captain turned his tongue on this Christian leader attempting to provoke an argument. To his surprise, in stead of arguing with him, the Christian simply put his arm around the captain and calmly said "But my friend, I have a peace which passes all understanding and a joy that nothing can take away and you can't argue against that!" The captain was taken aback and finally replied; "If that is the case you are a lucky dog" and walked away.
As the voyage continued the captain kept on thinking about this comment which he simply couldn't get out of his mind. He started observing the Christian from a distance, and noticed by his manner and disposition, that he really did seem to have a special joy and peace. Gradually he began to compare his own bitterness of heart with the great peace this Christian displayed. Towards the end of the voyage the captain approached the Christian again and said, "I have been watching you, and I want to have what you have got, please help me to find faith." By the end of the journey he too had become a Christian.
Of all of God's gifts to His children, it is this sense of joy and peace which often has the greatest affect on those around them. It encourages those without any religion to look at their own hearts and lives and seek the Source of the Christian's joy. Likewise, it also encourages those who have faith in a different religion to question the validity of their belief and to start exploring the beautiful truth of Christ's love.
Years ago in India an old Hindu priest came to listen to a Christian missionary. As he sat in the midst of the congregation he became increasingly restless. So this Christ Who came to save the world, had been seized and mocked by the very persons He had sought to help; He had endured a mock trial, scourging and the Cross. Finally this Christ had prayed from the Cross "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." The old man could stand it no longer. Rushing forward in front of the congregation he fell before the missionary and pleaded "We want you to leave India! We want you to leave India!" When the missionary asked why, the Hindu replied "Because we have no Saviour like this, Who died for His enemies and prayed for those who took His life. If you keep on telling people this story they will abandon our temples and follow your Saviour."
The joy of God's love in the Saviour is a powerful attraction because it is so profoundly beautiful beyond words. Composer Franz Joseph Hayden said that every time he pondered the reality of a God Who loved him so deeply, his heart always leapt for joy. Those without faith, as well as those who follow other religions, can see that Christian's have a special joy and it often has a profound impact on them.
Moreover, the Source of the Christian's joy and peace is totally unaffected by any personal problems or troubles which may come their way during this mortal life. Nothing can take this gift from them. The Light of God's love continues to shine across the valley of despair no matter what they have to face personally whether it be bereavement, ill health, relationship issues, money worries or whatever. Although they may face all sorts of personal problems and the rest of the world may be falling apart around them, the Light of God's loves still shines on them and in them, just as God promised in John Ch1vs 4,5; "In Jesus is life and this life is the Light of men. And the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overwhelm it."
An excellent example of this indestructible joy and peace can be seen in the life of the Rev Rupert Lonsdale.
Rupert was a submarine commander during the Second World War and also endured several years in a POW camp when he and his crew were captured by the Germans. After the war he eventually became ordained and had a long and fruitful ministry in the Church of England, retiring in 1970. Besides his wartime experiences he suffered great personal tragedy in losing his first wife while giving birth to his only child, his second wife to cancer in 1961, and his third wife in 1986 to a brain tumour. Above his study desk he had a painting with the words "Faith sees through tears" written below it.
He said that the many trials he endured in his personal life had only served to deepen his trust and reliance upon the Lord. "When I am down" he said, "I find that kneeling and giving my life and problems to God enables me to find Him and His grace." He further added "Nothing will ever shake me from my belief that God is love, despite the things I have seen happen to other people in the war, not to mention the things that have happened to me. During this life real believers grow more into Christ's likeness. I believe in the everlasting mercy and patience of God, though if people carry on being rebels against God, it must end in being put out of His Kingdom. The Bible tells us that evil has entered into this creation. I believe that the Devil, cunning and strong tries to draw us away from being fashioned by God….he can be successfully resisted when we ask for God's help."
The tragedies experienced by Lonsdale would have destroyed him without God's unfailing love and personal care upholding him and carrying him through. For him, the Light of God's personal love continued to shine across the valley, even in the darkest of times. The inner joy and peace God provides to those who truly follow Him is totally indestructible. It is a Light which will never stop shining and it is a Light which can never be overcome by despair.