These past three and a half weeks I have been participating in a study at church with a group of other women. In our private study at home, we were asked to read Isaiah 61 and to mark the passages that speak the most to us. It is a Scripture that many are familiar with, that many cling to for the promises found within and the glory of Jesus fulfilling these promises. It cannot be summarized, and I dare not to for fear of missing out on relaying the beauty of the gift found therein:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61: 1-3).
Those are only the first three verses, and yet they are captivating. We have all been through trials of loss, pain, suffering, hopelessness. We have all mourned and wept and questioned and fought to cling tight to the faintest of hopes that we know reside somewhere deep in our hearts. At times we have all traveled in dark places, lonely places, places where we think there will never be morning again. We have sat in the ash of our places and lives burned down, and could not find the good in it.
But these verses speak life into those dark moments. It forces the breaking of dawn and the light of Hope to shine once again in our lives. Just as we feel that there is no hope to hold onto, that we are completely abandoned, God whispers, “Wait. I have not forgotten you.” He lifts us from the ashes and gives us beauty; He lightens our loads.
And the one promise that I wrote down as the one that speaks most to me? Oil of joy.
We have heard it many times, that joy and happiness are not the same thing. Joy is like a state of being for the soul, an assurance of God’s goodness even in the darkness and trials. It is the delight in something, a pure thing that is not circumstantial. And I began to think of the imagery of these words, of what is means to have the oil of joy.
When looking back at many ancient Hebrew traditions, oil is used for many things. At feasts and other celebratory moments, fragrant, sweet smelling oil is poured onto guests. Kings were anointed with oil. Oil was used for prophets, for sacrifice. But the celebratory kind, the one that smelled so sweetly and was given to all guests and not held back for just one, as in a king’s anointing? That oil was the oil of joy.
The oil of joy was poured out. It was not just sprinkled or marked, but poured over the person. It covered them, head to toe. Oil is not like water that will dry and run off. Oil lingers. It slides thick and slow, seeping into every pore, running down to coat the person. It cannot be washed off easily, and was not meant to. It is shiny and noticeable on the skin. When one saw the oil one saw the anointing. It permeated the person and gave off a sweet aroma that others saw and smelled. When they smelled the oil of joy, they knew there was a reason to celebrate.
And Paul tells us that we “…are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15). The fragrance of joy is the fragrance of Christ. And if that oil of joy is found in Christ, could it be, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, that the oil of joy is the Comforter, the Holy Spirit within us?
Could this mean then that we already have the oil of joy, waiting to be poured out? Believing that Christ came and fulfilled these words, as He says He does in Luke 4:17-21, means we also believe that God is working this in us.
This fulfills another promise of God, that He will always be with us and through Christ we can do all things. Even the hard things and the painful things.
But why then can’t I always feel it?
Because I am trying to work in my own strength. I am grasping at the intangible, thinking I can will joy to come and be done with the pain. I fail to see that the oil of joy does not pour out of me of my own accord, but because God has given it to me through Christ. When I give myself to Christ, relinquish my need for control, it is there He pours out the oil. It is there joy is found. We try so hard to push and force and make things work and struggle against ourselves when all the while He has provided for our every need. If I pour out my selfishness, my pride, my hurt, He pours in. The oil of joy seeps into those dark and hurting places and restores. It becomes a countenance, a sweet fragrance. When the oil of joy is given, the anointing is made visible. To the saved and unsaved. And it is no longer my striving and struggling others will see, but rather the Holy Spirit working in me. When the hard times come, the joy remains. Because Christ remains. God’s promises remains. The oil of joy permeates my soul. And that which I so long for I can cling to in the dark moments, because Jesus has never left my side.