Inexpressible Joy

by Peter Swann


I was in the third phase of my first entry-level triathlon and I was whipped. I’d been going about an hour, with much of the run portion ahead of me, and I sure was tired. It was then that I heard encouragement from a passing runner that blessed me, but also made me pull back. The words were genuine, but something seemed off. It is perhaps unfortunate, especially in times like this, that triathlons have the ages of competitors written in bold market on their calves. As the twelve-year-old said, “Good job, mister,” I returned the encouragement back to him, but spent the rest of the race trying to hunt down my young friend with no little amount of determination.

There are many things that drive us. Sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s anxiety, and sometimes, as in that case, it’s pride. Anything that makes us tick can get us going. In fact, we can always tell our life’s values by what it is that really gets us moving.

I’ve been plagued for some time now not by what does get me going, but by what doesn’t. Scripture is so clear on the need for unbelievers to know Christ, yet my life so dimly reflects Paul’s model of “great sorrow” and “unceasing anguish” (Romans 9) for the lost. I just can’t get over how my life doesn’t exemplify those qualities, and it’s a source of much grief and prayer for me.

There are a couple responses to this crisis of mine. One is to beat myself into living out those qualities. But that sounds depressing, and also not very God-honoring. So as I’ve warred in prayer over this, I’ve been struck by how I’ve been taken to an area I didn’t expect… joy.

The anticipation of joy is a powerful motivator. It can get us going in profound ways. And the anticipation of joy in those becoming believers is a huge leverage point for us. In 1 Peter 1, the apostle talks of the “inexpressible joy” that flows from those who know Christ. That’s a serious motivator for me. I can be driven to see inexpressible joy in those around me… an inexpressible joy found in Christ.

So as I continue to plead for Romans 9 in me, it’s not for depression-based sorrow or anguish. I’m not sad or gloomy or beaten down. It’s rather for joy-anticipating sorrow, and joy-driven anguish. I yearn for nonbelievers around us to experience the greatest joy they ever could! I long for them to know Christ, be found in Him, and be agents of joy-giving salvation to so many others around them.

Many things can drive us, but one that brings a God-honoring, Christ-exalting passion and drive… the anticipation of inexpressible joy.