When I was young, Easter was a big deal. We would put on our Sunday best, then speed off to church. Even though I didn’t understand Easter’s true importance, I sensed this was a special day. And, that it had something to do with Jesus rising from the dead.
Afterwards, we would head over to my grandparents’ and gorge on candy until we were as plump as the Peeps we ate. Sadly, looking back church and the resurrection seemed like barely-legible footnotes to the bigger blessings of family, food, and sugar.
Yet even as a pastor who’s explored the resurrection with real depth, I often live like my younger self. Like Easter is boring and dull. I ‘know’ that the resurrection changes everything, but sometimes wonder how much it’s changed me. Or, how much it really shapes the way I approach the moment in front of me.
Maybe you can identify. As you prepare to preach on the resurrection, have you ever experienced a disconnect between your head and heart? Have you ever struggled with coldness, depression or even despair even as you hold out the hope of Christ to others?
I hope you answered ‘yes’. The people we’re ministering to live at this address–the place where hope in Christ’s redeeming power is obscured by the smog of life east of Eden. They need to know we know that we are just like them so that we can help them become like Christ.
That said, as pastors and ministry leaders, others will imitate us as we follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). So it’s absolutely vital that the hope of Christ’s resurrection is constantly welling up in us to produce fresh power and hope.
Back To The Beginning For Resurrection Hope
Where should we begin?
Not surprisingly, the best starting place is also the most obvious: scripture. That’s where we learn about the resurrection in the first place. The apostles also began with scripture as they considered the massive implications of Christ’s resurrection for themselves and their flock (see Acts 2:30-36).
Even if we’ve taught on Easter and the resurrection countless times, diving into scripture again will never disappoint us. Our prayer should be, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’ (Psalm 119:18).
When we reconsider the resurrection from God’s word, we rediscover a rich, multi-textured tapestry that can lift us out of the deep ruts we keep returning to. It’s so much more than [insert Eeyore voice over], ‘Jesus has risen, so someday we’ll rise again, too, and everything wrong will be made right’.
While that’s entirely true, the resurrection is relevant right now, not only for our future in heaven.
Here are three specific ways scripture can rekindle our joy in Easter this year, and, every day:
1. Strength In Our Fight Against Sin
In Romans 6, Paul tells us that Christ’s resurrection power is available today as we combat sin. ‘We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (vv. 9-11). Just as Jesus’ resurrection proves his victory over sin and death, in Christ, Christians have freedom from sin’s cruel mastery.
This is incredibly practical for us as ministry leaders and pastors. We don’t have to get angry at that elder who questions our every move. We don’t have to prove ourselves in the pulpit. And we can say ‘no’ to unreasonable ministry demands, and display joy and kindness even when our kids run off the rails. The resurrection is the very best news for us–and those we shepherd–in our showdown with sin.
2. Freedom From Self-Absorption
In the resurrection, God put Jesus at the epicenter of the universe.
‘God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11).
You’ve heard that a million times, but slow down for a moment. By virtue of his death and resurrection there is no one, in all of creation, who will not bow down and worship Jesus as Lord. It’s all about him.
We live in a self-saturated culture where my (and others’) desires dictate how we feel, and what consumes our attention. I’ve gone through seasons in our ministry, for example, where I’ve struggled to raise sufficient funds for it. In those moments, I’ve struggled with sulking, feeling discouraged and playing the victim card.
But the resurrection reminds me–and all of us–that life is about Jesus. Even when life is tough, it’s all about him and the victory he has won. There’s hope for us even in our worst moments.
3. Your Work For Christ Matters
Have you ever quietly wondered if your ministry is worth it? When talking with fellow pastors recently, one shared about a difficult situation involving a church member. She felt like her sin wasn’t a big deal and ‘just wanted to move on’, while the pastor (correctly) recognized it was far more serious and needed to be explored more deeply. This tug-of-war has been going on far too long, and is wearing the pastor down.
I know that you can identify with my friend. Ministry has a ridiculously high degree of difficulty. Marriages you invest in breakup after countless hours of prayer and heart-wrenching investment. Church members get angry when you don’t meet expectations and leave in anger, or, without a goodbye. You’re not appreciated. And you could’ve made a lot more money–with a lot less grief–in the corporate world.
At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us something everyone in ministry longs to hear: ‘be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain’ (v.58). Sometimes we have no earthly idea how that will play out, but somehow Christ’s victory over the grave will be ours, too, (v.57) and that gives us the strength not merely to press on with God’s calling, but to do it with vigor.
When Your Heart Won’t Follow Your Mind
So scripture helps us reconnect with the resurrection’s implications for our everyday lives, not merely when Christ returns. Like smelling salts for our souls, that can snap us out of our apathy and reinvigorate our joy for Easter.
But as we know, so often the battle is not limited to our minds, is it? More commonly, we know something but we don’t care. And that can be downright scary.
What can we do when the resurrection should rock our worlds, but doesn’t?
Let’s take a look at Psalm 42 and 43, where the psalmist finds himself in a dark, confusing situation.
1. Be Honest With God And Bring Your Questions
The psalmist believes in God’s covenant love, presence and strength (8-9), but he finds himself ‘cast down’ and ‘in turmoil’ (v. 5, 11). He’s in mourning, and asks God, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’(v.9) While ministry may not bring us that low most of the time, God invites us to get honest and come to him with our questions when our experience of God doesn’t match what we believe about him.
2. Ask For Help
We counsel others to seek God when they feel flat, but somehow it’s not so easy when we’re low ourselves. In Psalm 43, the psalmist pours out his heart to God, begging for help:
‘Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me.
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!’ (v.3)
If Easter and the hope of the resurrection seem like little more than theory for us, we can cry out for God’s help. And expect him to respond.
3. Remember Better Times
Even though the writer had lost his joy, he looked back on better times when he
‘would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival’ (v.4).
He remembered times spent in exuberant worship with God’s people. Even if we aren’t currently experiencing the hope of the resurrection, we can remember times when we did. What are some of those times in your life?
4. Trust That God Will Restore Your Joy – Eventually
In his despondent present, the psalmist not only looked back, but ahead, for any hope he could spy. Three times in Psalm 42-43 he sings this chorus:
‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God’ (42:5, 11; 43:5).
Even when our experience of God and his salvation doesn’t match what we know of it, we can take deep joy in knowing that mismatch won’t last forever. God may well give us days ahead where we enjoy resurrection hope, but if not in our lifetime, then certainly in heaven when Jesus will ‘make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5).
A Final, Practical Tip
Let me leave you with one practical tip that’s helped me find joy in Christ’s resurrection (and many other truths) in seasons of relative apathy. It’s like a dark cloud with a silver lining.
The dark cloud is that, when we’re exhausted or discouraged, it’s incredibly hard to be encouraged by even the greatest truths. (Exhibit A: see Elijah upon running from Jezebel, 1 Kings 19:1-4.) If we’re over-working or not taking care of ourselves on a regular basis, we’re in danger of losing our experience of the hope we have in Christ. Too many of us live here.
The silver lining, though, is that when we’re at our wit’s end, our defenses come down and we can cry out for God’s help and grace. We see that God’s resurrection power is something we ourselves need, right now, if we’re ever going to offer hope to others. Our lowest points are an invitation to take God’s hand out of the miry pit. They are points where God finds us and sets us on a new, brighter path (see 1 Kings 19:5-18).
That’s exactly what happened to Jesus on that first Easter morning. When we dig into God’s word and cry out for help once again, we join him on that path. It will end in the new heavens and earth, where we will experience fully and forever the resurrection joy we see dimly now.
For further reflection:
- Be honest: to what extent does Easter and the resurrection truly give you hope and joy in your real, everyday life?
- Which of the suggestions above would help you most? How?
- If you’re not all that excited about what God did at the resurrection these days (see #1), could it be that you’re exhausted and overworked? Consider what it might mean to scale back, and taking some time to ask for God’s presence and help.