Joy Until the End: a book review

I did not know Steve Hayner, but he was the president of InterVarsity during my college days, and was influential in lives of some of my key mentors. My sole memory of him comes from Urbana `96. I have vague recollections of him on stage addressing the thousands, but I also participated in a smaller cohort of student evangelists (there were about two hundred of us) and I still remember some of Steve’s encouraging words for us.

After his tenure as the InterVasity Christian Fellowship President, Steve continued to lead.  He was president of Columbia Theological Seminary, and served on the board of World Vision and  International Justice Mission. Many were blessed by his life. Then came the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, nine months of treatment and his passing from life to Life. Joy in the Journey records the CaringBridge entries of his final days from Steve and his wife Sharol (a PCUSA pastor in Atlanta). Both Sharol and Steve have had quite the life and ministries impacting the world we live in. This book shares the impact of his dying, and his courageous hope in Jesus Christ in life and death.

Cancer and chemo are not fun. We read of Steve’s suffering: hair and energy loss, sickness, pain, weight loss and death. This is a short book but not light reading; yet it is ultimately encouraging. Steve’s leadership and wisdom have affected thousands. These pages record two forewords, one from Mark Labberton (president at Fuller and author of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor), another from Alex Gee  (Evangelical Covenant pastor and author of Jesus and the Hip-Hop Prophets). It also records a eulogy from Tim Dearborn (associate director of faith and development at World Vision) and tributes from his kids. There are tributes from his children, Chip Hayner and Emilie Wagner and reflections from Steve on the care he received through church, the Columbia Theological Seminary community, and the many lives he touched. Above all, the love that Sharol and Steve share through this difficult journey of cancer is inspiring.

One of the gifts of Steve’s final days is the way cancer did not steal his joy, but clarified his vision of what really matters. Steve and Sharol reflect on a life well lived. This is a book to be read and re-read. May we all have as much joy in our journeys. I won’t summarize Steve’s reflections but I found his entry for November 11 is particularly poignant (less than three months before his death). He shares several lessons he learned in his final months:

  1. When Jesus is all you have, you discover Jesus is all you really need.
  2. As long as I have life on earth, I have a call.
  3. God will never give up in his work to transform me into the likeness of Jesus.
  4. Joy is not about my circumstances, but rather about being held and sustained by God’s love. (103-104)

In a sense these are simple. I have uttered statements like these. This is what I have always been taught and have taught. But these phrases gain new authority for me in the way that Steve lived and died. Steve didn’t aim at creating a legacy, but at being faithful. In the end he lost his life and found it in Christ. I give this book five stars and recommend this book for anyone who finds themselves on a similar journey.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

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