How The Village Church taught me to find joy in sorrow

 
Matt Chandler | October 3rd 2019

My phone rang around 8:30 a.m. I answered and heard a frantic voice on the line saying something I couldn’t quite make out, except for the words “accident,” “fishing,” and “dead.” A young couple from the church had gone to the Pacific Northwest to see some extended family and old friends and, most importantly, to introduce them to their newborn son. The husband and new daddy was a true outdoorsman. He had hiked multiple mountains in the United States and was an avid camper, hunter, and fisherman.

Joy in the Sorrow

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Early that morning in Oregon, he woke up and kissed his bride’s forehead before quietly standing over his newborn son sleeping in the pack-and-play. Maybe he just stared at him, like new fathers tend to do. Having a son myself, I wonder if he was imagining the days when his boy would be getting up with him to hit the lake and see what good fortune might be waiting for them there. All we know about the accident is that the boat he and a couple of his friends were in capsized, and he drowned. A young man who hiked mountains, lived an active life, and was a great swimmer died that day. I still think about him. I even have a photo of him on the top of some mountain summit looking down on the valleys below. He loved Jesus, his wife, and his son. He was full of life, courage, and grit—a hard worker who would do anything for anyone in need. Why him? There are plenty of lazy, abusive, narcissistic men who neglect or hurt their families. Why not take them?

Not long after that young husband’s funeral, I decided that I was going to do a deep dive on suffering, so that I might better equip the men and women God had entrusted me to lead in how to think about suffering, and God’s character and purposes in it—and, most of all, in how to face suffering when it came flooding into their lives. 

Suffering on almost every page

As I started to study, I realized that I had read a lot of my Bible without really paying attention to what I was reading. Suffering in all forms was woven throughout the Scriptures—and not just in the book of Job. On almost every page there was disappointment, depression, doubt, sickness, and death. How had I missed it? I had been reading my Bible for over a decade and hadn’t noticed that God’s word had more to say about suffering in this life than I could ever have imagined.

What I found to be unique about the biblical perspective is not only that suffering is a reality but that joy in that suffering can be a reality too. James 1 not only assumes that we will face trials and tribulations as Christians but the author argues that these sufferings are a pathway to maturity, showing us that we lack nothing that we truly need. It’s the idea that for us to bear fruit in our lives, we will probably need the plow. We need something to wake us up, to stir us up, to make us rely more on the Lord and look more like Jesus. And so when we walk into a trial, we can know “joy” there. There can be smiles in the tears.

He is always with us

In dark and difficult seasons—when we face pain and suffering, when we get that one phone call that changes everything—we may not know or understand everything, but we can trust that the Lord is leading us into maturity and showing us that we need him. And we can also trust that, by his Spirit and through his church, he is not going to abandon us; he is with us. He is encouraging us and he is giving us what we need to walk through that suffering faithfully.

One of the things that I think drew people to The Village Church is a phrase that we said years ago that took on a life of its own: “It’s okay to not be okay; it’s just not okay to stay there.” We wanted to be honest not just about suffering, but even about failure. We wanted to cultivate an environment where we could be human on earth, in a broken and fallen world. We didn’t want to teach or operate in a way that denies the reality of sin and suffering, that suggests that somehow our pain and failures take away from the glory of God.

In dark and difficult seasons we may not know or understand everything, but we can trust that the Lord is leading us into maturity and showing us that we need him.

Then it was my turn

And one of the greatest ironies and joys of my life is that while I was preparing to help our people suffer, God was preparing me to suffer.

There I was, teaching everybody to be prepared to suffer well, and I had no idea that I was being prepared. I didn’t know that the Lord was saying, Matt, you’re going to need to study a little more. Hey, pay attention to this; you’re going to need this. I was thinking, The people here need this. The Lord knew, Yeah, but you’re not separate from them, Matt. You need this.

Thanksgiving Day 2009

On Thanksgiving Day 2009, I woke up to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. My wife, Lauren, had graciously let me sleep in and had already run to the store to pick up those small items that you tend to forget. The house was full of the joyful noises that accompany a day of feasting and playing. The kids were laughing at something in the living room, and I could hear the squeak, squeak, squeak of the springs on my youngest’s “Johnny Jump Up.” I hugged Lauren as I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. She asked if I could give Norah her bottle while she finished putting together some dishes for lunch later that day. 

I walked into the living room and put my coffee down and fed Norah her bottle. She was six months old at the time and would stare at me with an occasional smile as she drank.

I burped her. 

I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up.

I turned to head back to my chair.

And that’s my last memory before waking up in the hospital.

This is an adapted extract from Joy in the Sorrow, the moving story of Matt Chandler’s battle with a potentially fatal brain tumor. But it's also the stories of members of The Village Church, whose lives were marked by suffering of various kinds. How they taught Matt, and continue to teach him, how to walk with joy in sorrow. Find out more here.

Matt Chandler

Matt Chandler is the Pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. The author of Explicit Gospel, Take Heart, and The Mingling of Souls, Matt also serves as President of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. He is married to Lauren and they have three children.

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