I love the house I live in. I call it “the secret place of the Most High.” When I go home, I go to a haven of peace. I pray by walking around the house. I must have thanked God over one thousand times for that house. But some time ago, I discovered that the Lord, my shield and protector, was prepared to allow the devil to burn the entire house down.
How could this be when I sought the counsel of the Lord before renting the house?
As a believer, I have tried to prepare my mind for all kinds of palaver. The psalmist warns: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” (Psalm 34:19). But the one about my house burning down came from left flank and took me by surprise.
By the fifth fire incident, I got the message and went to the Lord. I repented and pleaded with him. I told him I would no longer rejoice in the house I rented. I would only rejoice in him: “Father, the issue is certainly not the counterfeit but the true gift. Moreover, you are not only the giver but also the only true gift. My joy must remain in you.”
From that time, the near-misses with fire outbreaks ceased, and I have stopped dwelling on the beauty of my rented house.
I did not meet Jesus in the pages of a bible. I met him in person. So, I can only tell you about the Jesus I know. I can only tell you about the Jesus who called me, saved me from armed-robbers and healed me miraculously of bullet-wounds. I can only tell you about Jesus of Nazareth.
I want you to know that Jesus is a killjoy. The Lord is determined to kill everything that gives us joy until we have no joy left outside of him.
Killing me softly
I used to own the largest video-rental chain in Nigeria. The video-club business was my pride and joy. It grew by leaps and bounds from Lagos to Ibadan, to Port Harcourt. When I met the Lord in very dramatic circumstances, my big fear was that he would ask me to close down the business. However, he soon reassured me he would never ask me to do that. I was very relieved by this.
It took me nearly ten years to realise exactly what he meant. Since I knew he wanted me to close down the business, the Lord wanted me to do so on my own without his having to tell me.
While I continued to struggle against this, let me tell you what the Lord did so dramatically that, in just one day in 2005, I closed down all the branches of VideoNet myself. The first thing he did was to kill my interest in films. The more my relationship with him developed, the less Hollywood films agreed with me. Many of them celebrate violence and illicit sex. Most of them preach the morals of the world.
The horror films began to seem demonic. I could no longer consider a film designed to inspire anxiety as a “thriller” when God has given me peace of mind. I could no longer sit and watch a group of men robbing a bank and consider it entertainment. And yet, how can the owner of a chain of video-shops become disenchanted with video films?
One day, the Lord asked me to fellowship with him, but I pleaded that I would like to watch a film. I had over 3,500 original video-tapes and DVDs in my house alone, with thousands more stored in my office; but I could not find one single film I liked. I would put a tape in the video-player, watch it for a few minutes, and quickly condemn and remove it.
After three days, I concluded the Lord was the architect of my frustration. So, I went to him in fellowship. I spent hours and hours in his presence. After a while, he said to me: “Femi, let us watch a film.” I told him: “There is no film in this house that I like. You have made sure of that.” The Lord said to me: “What makes you think that? Go to the study and I will choose a film for us.”
The Lord chose a film I had not seen before and did not even know I had. It is entitled “Boycott,” starring Jeffrey Wright. It is a film about the American Civil Rights movement and the African-American boycott of the public bus system in Montgomery Alabama in the 1950’s. I could not believe how interesting I found the film. Everything about it agreed with me.
But the object lesson was infinitely more important than the film itself. Jesus is “the thief in the night.” (Revelation 16:15). He steals away our negatives and develops them into his positives. The costs of following him include our loves, interests and values. Jesus says: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).
Joy of the Lord
The psalmist says: “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4). But God did the seeming opposite when he took away Ezekiel’s wife prematurely. He said: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke.” (Ezekiel 24:16).
It took me ages to understand this tendency does not contradict the peculiar wisdom of the psalmist. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, he takes away our desires and gives us new ones. He ensures that his desires become the desires of our heart.
Accordingly, Jesus kills our joy with his word and replaces it with the joy of the Lord. This joy of the Lord is our newfound strength. (Nehemiah 8:10). However, it is also likely initially to be our pain. The will of the Lord is often entirely unpleasant; nevertheless we must delight in it for the simple reason that it is God’s will: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2). Thus, it was the good pleasure of God for Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2); and for Isaiah to go around for three years with his buttocks uncovered. (Isaiah 20:2-4).
Inevitably, our atonement with God redefines our pleasures from what we like to what God likes. In this way, our new life is shaped by God and not by our feelings. Thereby, we too can declare like the psalmist: “In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God.” (Psalm 40:7-8).
Our new joy is the joy of Christ fulfilled in us. (John 17:13). This joy is immune to situations and circumstances. Its one mainspring is our intimate personal relationship with God. Within that context, we count it all joy when we fall into various trials. (James 1:2). Jesus says: “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22).