A Time To Rejoice (The Growing Pains Series Book 7)
I understand that there are a hundred ways to go wrong, and I cannot give counsel for every specific case in a single sermon. But I am attempting to capture a vital biblical thread in the Christian life, and this thread is a love that delights in one another. For some of you, the gaps in your spiritual joy are relational gaps. You keep a safe distance from the relational wealth inside the church family, you keep your heart closed, you prefer not to share in the troubles of others, and you dare not put your prospects for joy into the laps of your Christian brothers and sisters.
Consequently, the joy that could be yours, remains afar off. The gospel is on the move, affecting more and more people in more and more places. Even though some of the preachers are preaching the gospel from unworthy motivations, nevertheless Paul rejoices that the gospel message is being proclaimed. This rejoicing in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is becoming more widely known is surely a form of rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Then, as you see the Lord working to rescue sinners and grow Christians and strengthen the congregation and raise up leaders and send out missionaries, you will have more reasons to rejoice in the Lord. Now we proceed to a fifth lesson about joy: rejoicing in the Lord is capable of increase and decrease. Spiritual joy, as we experience it in this present fallen world, is a contracting and expanding reality that may increase or decrease depending on a variety of circumstances.
Sin certainly does and will compromise or deplete our joy. Less sinning really does mean more rejoicing! But even apart from sin, our spiritual joy is capable of increase or decrease. For this reason our joy may increase or decrease: if our beloved fellow Christians are well, we have an increase in joy; if our beloved fellow Christians are not well, we have a decrease in joy.
But if they came to know the Lord, our joy would increase. He may have been very joyful beforehand, but now another happy dynamic is introduced into the equation, and his joy expands. So, the Christian who claims to always have the same level of joy, without increase or decrease, is either not being honest, or kidding themselves, or not sufficiently involved in the lives of other people.
That said, it would be mistaken to think that joy and sorrow exist in an inverse relationship, such that the increase in one necessitates a corresponding decrease in the other. It should not be so! This leads us to a sixth lesson about joy: rejoicing in the Lord is to be experienced underneath, alongside, through, and over our afflictions, sorrows, and anxious concerns.
Even if you have a lot of sorrow and suffering, you are still meant to experience and express joy in the Lord at the same time. It is not as if you have units of emotion, and if you have units of sorrow, you have 0 units of joy. It is not like that! You have incalculable and expansive capacities for both sorrow and joy! In other words, if you would be a healthy Christian, you must have the capacity to rejoice amid suffering and rejoice alongside sorrowing.
We see this refreshing realism on display in Philippians. Consider these things:. Do you get the picture here? Griefs and heartaches are many, and he feels it in his body and in his heart. The paradox of the joyful Christian life amid troubles and trials is on full display in 2 Corinthians We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
Welcome to ministry, kid! This is what faithful Christian ministry looks like in a fallen world. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? So, as you enter with faith, hope, and love into the painful realities of an imperfect church family and in imperfect ministry in a world that stands against us, remember the joy: the Lord is our highest joy, and He is the source and sanctifier of every other joy.
Rejoicing in the Lord is to be experienced underneath, alongside, through, and over our afflictions, sorrows, and anxious concerns. Do not let your sinful heart be carried away into a preoccupation over the negatives, lest you become a first rate grumbler; do not let your sensitive or sympathetic heart be swept away by all the grief; but let your saintly heart be carried upward by the Holy Spirit to rejoice in the fresh air of a thousand graces that are all around you, if only you had the spiritual eyes to see them.
See them, and rejoice! Last but not least, rejoicing in the Lord is strengthened and safeguarded by sound doctrine. This seventh and final point actually anticipates the next several sermons in Philippians 3. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. In Philippians , Paul teaches the Philippians about the precious doctrines of justification by faith, participation in Christ, and the hope of resurrection glory. There is nothing dry or abstract about his instruction here: he speaks of the incomparable value of Christ and the great privilege and urgency of knowing Christ and following after Him.
The purpose of the doctrine is not merely to get us thinking correctly, as important as that is, but beyond that to love Christ of whom the doctrine speaks and to live a life that is shaped by Christ and His gospel. But if you jettison the doctrine, what you are left with? You are left with unrooted emotions that will not endure the trials of life. Paul speaks of this matter in Colossians Look out for the dogs. Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written. This eloquently written book shares Billings's journey, struggle, and reflections on providence, lament, and life in Christ in light of his illness, moving beyond pat answers toward hope in God's promises.
Theologically robust yet eminently practical, it engages the open questions, areas of mystery, and times of disorientation in the Christian life. Billings offers concrete examples through autobiography, cultural commentary, and stories from others, showing how our human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger biblical story of God's saving work in Christ.
Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Todd Billings. Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Rejoicing in Lament by J. Recipient of Publishers Weekly starred review and Christianity Today 5-star review At the age of 39, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer.
This eloquently written Recipient of Publishers Weekly starred review and Christianity Today 5-star review At the age of 39, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published February 17th by Brazos Press first published February 10th More Details Other Editions 3.
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Sort order. Mar 15, Derek Emerson rated it it was amazing Shelves: christian , books-read , books-on-death. Todd Billings is a friend and neighbor. In fact, at the time of his diagnosis he was our next door neighbor.
Bible Verses About Pain:10 Comforting Scriptures
It was a diagnosis that hit us hard, as at that time our youngest son was in midst of treatment for the cancer that would eventually end his life. It is my son, Oliver, that Todd refers to at one point in the book. While this relationship would incline one to think I'll find favor with the book, it actually creates more risk for me to be hurt by [A full disclaimer is needed at the outset. While this relationship would incline one to think I'll find favor with the book, it actually creates more risk for me to be hurt by what he writes. If that had happened, I would have remained silent.
Instead, I offer my reflections on a book that helps me to wrestle with the loss in my life. While some of these have addressed core questions, most offer glib advice and cliches. A notable exception is Jerry Sittser's "A Grace Revealed," which combines his own grief with his faith in a way that is both authentic and enlightening. Well, it says much more than that. Still, finding someone who shows how scripture gives us permission to mourn, rage, cry, and beg to our God, in the midst of the covenant relationship, is inspiring.
I'm not a theologian, so I'll leave the deep theological arguments to those better equipped for such a discussion. I approach the book as a Christian father who lost the youngest of his four children to neuroblastoma cancer. A father who watched helplessly for nearly three years as the disease killed his little boy; a father seemingly helpless to help a family move forward after losing their son. Billings has my attention early on as he addresses the question of evil in the world. So much of what we think revolves around the question of, how could this happen? How could God allow my little boy to die?
How could God allow a young father to develop an incurable cancer? Any explanation of this that I have seen falls dreadfully short of a satisfactory answer. Personally, I expect no answer and have to come to see my lack of understanding as my inability to comprehend God. Billings, I was thrilled to see, agrees. It's not that the Bible hasn't addressed the question so that we as humans are left with a shoulder-shrugging 'I don't know. It should remain an open question, one that we continue to ask in prayer and in our lives in response to the world's suffering" Billings sees this question laid bare at my son's funeral.
Our priest, Billings writes, repeatedly said "God has called Oliver to himself," and "God has chosen to call Oliver at this time. A part of my heart cried, 'Surely not! The priest was confessing that God is sovereign King even in the suffering and death of Oliver. There was sting to this--implicating God in the struggle with Oliver's cancer and his death at a young age--but also a reassurance. The sting is the theodicy question as an open question.
It hurts. The death of a child is not the way things are supposed to be--why did God allow this to happen? Yet the reassurance is that Oliver did not just slip through God's fingers. In life and death, Oliver was in God's hands We trust in the goodness and power of the Almighty, even though the reasons for the suffering are beyond human wisdom" Note that Billings does not say we should joyfully accept it as "God's will" or just say "trust in God.
We must not ignore the question, but faithfully approach God for understanding in the midst of suffering. Billings refuses to let us retreat to a fatalistic approach to life. We are called to compassionate action in the midst of an evil world. We do not this not because we can change the world, but because our faith calls for action in the midst of evil. Of course, such prayer may not touch those in crisis. How do we respond to people who face evil, indeed horror, when tragedy strikes their family?
Billings points us back to scripture. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak" Ps. This is difficult for people in general, but as Christians it shows the limits of our faith. Are we afraid to acknowledge our inability to respond to grief with anything but lament? As someone who struggled through his son's illness and death, I didn't want assurances of his happiness or God's love.
It is preciously because I love and worship God that I can cry out to him, and I want others to join me in that lament. That is difficult to do, and prior to my son's illness, I failed others in that area. This is not a pessimistic theology. Billings wants us to celebrate all that God has given us through praise and rejoicing. The Psalmists balance their laments with songs of praise. But they still lament.
In a wonderful passage, Billings shows how his moments of joy his wedding, the arrival of a child sometimes highlight times of lament. In doing so, we more fully recognize God's sovereignty in all areas of our life. Billings also explores the power of prayer in the midst of tragedy. He recalls the prayers for healing for my young son were not granted.
How could God allow this? Again, this brings us back to the theodicy question, and Billings points us to Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane.
Jesus prays to have the cup of suffering to be taken away. God could save Jesus, and he chooses not to. God could have saved my son's life, but he did not. God could cure Todd, but still he suffers. What does this mean? The denial of Jesus' petition does not arise from a failure to ask for another way than the cross or a lack of faith in the God of power and love.
Jesus presents his heart to the Father in Gethsemane as a way to bring his will into alignment with the God of power and love who wills and works in mysterious, hidden ways: through the cross" Those seeing God as a vending machine -- insert the prayer and get what you paid for, are at a loss when their prayers are not answered as expected. Billings says such an approach misses the understanding of Christ crucified. This book is important for many reasons, but what strikes me most is Billings call for an understanding of lament in our Christian faith.
Lament fixes our eye's on God's promises and brings the cries of confusion and pain--our own and those of others--before the covenant Lord" What Billings has given us here is the ability to cry out to God in lament, and know that we do so with the voices of all those before us. The psalmists show a people groaning in pain, but doing so with an understanding of God's promise.
Sep 05, Jonathan Brown rated it really liked it. A moving, heartfelt, head-rich book, not shy about complexity but always open to the light. Perhaps one of the best books on this particular topic. Should I ever develop cancer quite likely, given my family history , it's one I'll turn to again in a heartbeat.
I preface this review with just one critique: Billings is an academic, and even here, he writes like one. Numerous forays into theological disputes with, e. I consider this a serious drawback, because this is a book I would otherwise recommend absolutely to every member of my churches who has some case of terminal illness, especially cancer, in their family. As it stands, I can only recommend it somewhat under qualification, in that its beauty and power may be obscured to the sight of those who stand most in need of it.
That said, in his late thirties, Billings was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in an already-advanced stage. As a theology professor in the Reformed tradition, he in this book, especially by drawing on the entries he wrote in his CarePages account during his treatment process, allows us to eavesdrop on the pains and joys of every stage of the physical, mental, medical, and emotional trip from pre-diagnosis to temporary remission.
Taking the Psalms as a companion guide for virtually the whole journey, Billings highlights the third category beyond praise and petition: lament. He rightly urges us to reclaim the psalms of lament in the church, and especially to do so as tools for the cancer journey. In the first chapter, Billings considers Psalm and its promise of "a spacious place," contrasting this with the feeling of a tightened and constricted future that cancer or other terminal illnesses can threaten.
Billings turns to the biblical conception of death as an enemy fated to be not just defeated but destroyed by a God who "has not promised to spare us from earthly death" but has nevertheless already "conquered it in Christ" The second chapter tangles mainly with the Book of Job, and postulates that the Bible never aims to give us any explanatory material for why we suffer, and that all of theodicy is a hopeless enterprise. I disagree somewhat - I think Billings does not fully grapple with the deeper message of Job, sticking instead to the surface. He is right, at least, in calling us to chastened and humbled thinking.
And he's also right in comparing Job's false comforters with those who attempt to offer cheap explanations to cancer patients. Billings correctly denounces "the therapeutic god of American culture" as "an idol" The third chapter commences the deeper venture into the psalms, stressing that the Psalter never denies our turbulent emotions but rather aims to help us learn how to "lament in the right things and take joy in the right things" Cherry-picking the psalms for only 'positive' expressions is a major crime of the church, because the psalms are there to enable us to move from pain and confusion through anger all the way to trust, even in the absence of an alternation in our external situation.
Biblical lament is honest about our fear and outrage, but brings it to "a Savior, Jesus Christ, who knows human suffering and grief" and who receives our expressions of such to him as "an act of faith and trust" The fourth chapter addresses our faulty attempts to look for 'the reason behind' our suffering, including 'the reason behind' our cancer, and wrestles with the dilemma of whether to pray for a complete cure or a deep remission.
Billings observes that a 'faith' based on expecting God to do a particular thing is only the sort of 'trust' we'd place in a vending machine; that God ordinarily works in mediated ways, through people and water and bread and wine and doctors and chemotherapy; and that lament will always be part of Christian living until the kingdom of God arrives in its fullness.
While we are obligated to protest to God that our sufferings in the present are not the way things ought to be and God agrees! The fifth chapter, addressing the common phenomenon of 'compassion fatigue' and its parallels to the temptation he's had to give up on hope, argues that 'compassionate witness,' even when it seems at its most overwhelmed, is an act of resistance, constituting us as "revolutionaries who protest against the darkness in this 'present evil age'" Even when he feels too weak and weary to hope or even lament, nevertheless "we don't hope in hope.
We hope in a God who can make dry bones of hopelessness live again" The sixth chapter, tackling the phenomenon of death head-on, observes that the world around us is a theater for God's glory but one in which good is rendered finite by mortality. We act under the delusion that we are self-made individuals, charters of our own course, and it is in part for this reason that cancer diagnoses or others like them can seem like such a derailment. What we need to do is to live in light of a different overarching story, the one about God's kingdom.
In this chapter, Billings has one of the most profound extended passages about the gift the church really is to his cancer journey. Only in the church does Billings find a place "where we develop relationships, celebrate our faith and life together, and also extend those same relationships all the way through dying and death. It's a marvelous gift that the church who baptizes and celebrates new life in Christ also does funerals, mourns with the dying, and celebrates the promise of resurrection in Christ. I would go so far as to say that a top recommended question from me for 'church shoppers' might be this: who would you like to bury you?
Billings celebrates the gospel as "good news that is big enough to incorporate and envelop our dying and death, even when it seems senseless" , and our joy isn't found in unraveling the mystery ourselves but in letting God "gather up the fragments" and "finish the story" in his resurrection-oriented way The seventh chapter, revisiting the 'cure' vs.
Billings urges us to pause in lament before we move to prayers for healing, and for even our prayers of healing themselves to be prayers for greater conformity to the cross of Christ. The eighth chapter is, in my view, among the most startling and insightful in the whole book. Billings is fixated on the fact that the chemotherapy he was given was a deadly poison derived from mustard gas, and that our whole discourse around cancer is martial and military in character.
Just the same, he sees, the gospel prescribes 'strong medicine' to heal sinners - with Christ crucified as "the strong medicine and the true healer" from sin, a malady more dire than cancer To have that strong medicine effective in us, we must actually be nourished by Jesus, united to Jesus, feed on Jesus. A further analogy from chemotherapy: After Billings received his post-chemo stem-cell treatment, he was consigned to a sterile lodge to see if his bones would 'engraft' the stem cells and produce white blood cells again.
Without engraftment, the rescue plan of the strong medicine will have failed. Just the same, per Romans , we must be engrafted into Christ and into his earthly body the church , not through our own efforts, but through his Spirit working in faith.
And if this is a divine pattern, then Billings perceives that, more generally, "afflictions that might appear poisonous on their own can actually bring life through the Father's hands" Such 'strong medicines' as spiritual trials, sorrow, grief, and anguish of heart can "restore true human health," if we're engrafted into Christ - and "in abiding in Christ, in feeding on Christ, we receive a medicine deep and strong enough that we will never go into relapse" The ninth chapter appeals to the doctrine of God's impassibility that yet encompasses our sufferings, and Billings correctly sees Christ as the place where "the covenant God himself has taken on our human suffering, even our sufferings of alienation and dread" Because of this, no matter how terrified or how hurting we are, "we can look to Christ to see, hear, and taste that we are still in the ever-faithful, ever-loving hands of God" In the tenth and final chapter, then, Billings encounters and shares the refreshing reminder that "God and the story of his mighty acts and ongoing work are bigger than my cancer story," for while "God's story does not annihilate my cancer story," yet "it asks for my story to be folded into the dying and rising of Christ as one who belongs to him" And so, taking the Psalter as our key again, we see that in our present stories of suffering, of grief, of terminal illness, or whatever else, "the final chapters of our prayers will be praise" And that is the promise of hope we need, and for which I'd recommend this book rather highly.
Apr 21, Matthew Mitchell rated it it was amazing. Profound theological reflections on biblical lament by a man who, sadly and gladly, has had to practice what he preaches. In , Todd Billings was diagnosed with stage 3 out of 3 multiple myeloma and told he needed to start chemotherapy the next week. Todd was only 39 and had a wife and two very small children. Immediately, Todd went through intensely aggressive treatment to reach a first remission and then began continual lifelong retesting for the almost inevitable return of the cancer.
Tod Profound theological reflections on biblical lament by a man who, sadly and gladly, has had to practice what he preaches. Todd Billings has entered into deep suffering. Todd Billings is also a theologian. A professor at Western Theological Seminary and author of several award-winning books on theology, Billings knows his Bible as well as systematic and historical theology.
This book would be good even if you only got one of those two sides of Todd Billings. When he was diagnosed, he began a blog about what he was going through and his thoughts about it. Many of the entries are sprinkled throughout the book. You feel his stinging pain. You wrestle with mortality. You ask the puzzling questions with him. You exult when the treatment works or when he reaches an new insight. And the theology is top shelf.
He wrestles with theodicy, bitter providence, sickness, sin, the curse, negative emotions, death, and the nature of God. And yet it never feels like an academic exercise or textbook.
I could easily identify with many of his thoughts on living as mortal creature before God. His feelings, his fears, his grief. For example in chapter 9, Billings writes: Sometimes suffering feels like a free fall rather than a swing down to the valley on a rope that will bring me back up to safety. I was thankful to be alive. I recall lying on my bed in the cancer lodge, crying aloud, when the thought came to my mind: my life would never be the same I feared for my children, that they would lose their father midcourse in their childhood.
I had all of the same feelings and thoughts as I recovered from my surgery and it was compounded by the death of a dear friend. Billings never pretends that there are any easy answers, but he also never gives in to despair or unbelief. In fact, pulsing through not over or around all of the lamentation in this book is a true joy. He presents Jesus who went before us in suffering—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He reminds us that God is unchanging and perfect yet perfectly approachable with all of our fickleness, feebleness, and anguish.
Highly recommended. Feb 14, Stephen rated it it was amazing. It is a rare book that can hover been the academic and the personal in a way that enriches both realms. After he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at age 39, J. A future that had once been measured in decades now lay shrouded in fog. This narrowing of his future led Billings deeper into prayer as he wrestled with his diagnosis. The fruit of that reflection and his journey is found in Rejoicing in Lament. The shape and tone of Rejoicing in Lament follows this central claim. It is this story, but it is much bigger than this story.
Rejoicing in Lament is a book about cancer, but it is about much more than cancer. It is neither a memoir nor a theological treatise on the problem of evil. Instead, the questions he wrestles with and the suffering he undergoes become vivid windows into the depths of the Christian life and the profoundly good news of the Gospel. Drawing deeply upon the psalms of lament, Billings finds a space to offer grief, confusion, frustration, and sorrow to God from a place of trust. This exploration leads him into discussions of mortality, and of the nature of creaturely knowledge, as well as theological concepts such as concursus and divine impassibility.
His explanations and use of these concepts manages to be accessible without losing clarity and substance. And so we rejoice and we lament. This book is truly a feast. An open question gives us freedom to lament and freedom to trust in God. Easy answers often serve as excuses to blame others or refuse to act ourselves.
The world is not as it should be. Christ has not yet returned and set the world right. Therefore, our response of compassion takes on the nature of protest. Rejoicing in Lament is a book for theologians and pastors.
It is a book for those struggling with cancer and for those who care for them. It is a book for regular people who pray and who struggle to walk with God. But even more so, Rejoicing in Lament is a book for all those who belong to Christ and groan for his return. It is a book for all of us and it is well worth reading.
Mar 25, BillHanley rated it it was amazing. I have stage 4 cancer with it spreading into my bones and lymph nodes. Reading this book helped with my thoughts and emotions, as well as my spiritual response to my creator. I encounter on a daily basis the response of other believers. Some help and really some don't. Billings walked me through a thorough but easy to understand, response to God and to others from what I might initially feel and think. He takes you through each stage of thoughts and feelings. He offers ways to talk to God in I have stage 4 cancer with it spreading into my bones and lymph nodes.
He offers ways to talk to God in prayer that allow for complaint lament and yet bring me back to reality of who God is and how much he loves me. I see my ultimate entry into heaven with reassurance. I recommend this book to all with cancer, all types, to help you while you deal with the disease. A great book for Pastor's to have available for when that diagnosis shows up in the congregation. Jul 08, Ashley McKnight rated it it was amazing Shelves: christian-living , theology , autobiography.
A beautiful read looking at lament in the life of the Christian, and how we can have hope in the midst of deepest losses. Billing looks to the psalms and teaches us how they should frame our experience of loss and lament by looking through the lens of his own experience with a very rare form of cancer. He addresses many issues such as how to respond and pray in light of loss and suffering, how we can rob others of the space to lament with many half-truths, how we pray in light of the coming king A beautiful read looking at lament in the life of the Christian, and how we can have hope in the midst of deepest losses.
He addresses many issues such as how to respond and pray in light of loss and suffering, how we can rob others of the space to lament with many half-truths, how we pray in light of the coming kingdom while not experiencing its fullness now. High reccomended. Feb 11, Michael Philliber rated it it was amazing. But for many people theology is simply dusty, drab, dispassionate, desiccated drivel. And then into the mix life happens, or death, bringing tragedy and theology to meet and clash in the sparring ring. Todd Billings, research professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, presents his own, very personal , tussle with life-threatening cancer and life-enriching theology.
This is a book where calamity and creed come together, all scuffling and brawling, which then morph into dancing and pirouetting.