It would seem that opportunities for despair and depression far outweigh any amounts of “good news” as we navigate through the stuff of life these days. In my own family, we’ve experienced chronic sickness, abuse, death, betrayal, estrangement, theft, loss of employment, slander, and injury, just to name a few. How is someone to bear up under a soul-crushing experience or personal disaster, much less choose joy in the midst of searing pain?
Either Romans 8:28 is true or it’s not; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The seed of joy must be found in a confidence that God is always working things out for our greatest good. But it’s a challenge to confront our own broken spirits when the outcomes we had hoped for never manifest.
They first key to living a joy-filled life lies in the ability to effectively steward our emotions, given that the heart is the seat of our personal desires. Do we take time to ensure that our desires are aligned with God’s? Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord and HE (emphasis mine) will give you the desires of your heart.” Often times, disappointment is birthed out of failed expectations—when what we want never seems to come true. And if we’re being honest, most of our desires have to do with earthly circumstances, our comfort, and most certainly the absence of pain and hardship.
So what are God’s desires for us? At the top of the list is that we would have faith in Him. In James 1:2 He tells us, “My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested, it stirs up in you the power of endurance.” God’s goal is not only that we would believe in Him, but that our lives would be fueled by rock-solid, persevering, overcoming trust in Him alone. That kind of faith is only produced in the dark valley of trials and tests. When we truly believe that God is working all things out for the greatest good, then we can confront each trial from a joyful perspective, knowing that God has a good plan to grow us up into maturity of faith.
Consider Jesus’ death. It appeared to His followers that His death was the greatest ministry disaster ever. But God knew the victory He had planned for all mankind for all time! In John 16:19-24, Jesus explained to His disciples that they would grieve when He died, but also said, “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” I wonder how often we allow our circumstances or other people to steal the joy that is already ours in Christ?
The next key to sustaining our promised joy is in the verse above—the joy of seeing Jesus! He is the utmost best source of joy. So often, I find myself staring headlong at the confronting challenge as it becomes larger than my head and heart can bear. But when I purpose to turn my eyes to look at the Lord and ask Him about what He’s accomplishing in the midst of the trial, I stop fighting for the outcome that I want and begin to surrender to His plan through it.
The third key to sustaining real joy—not the fake kind that is fueled by happy circumstances—is to live a life of thankfulness. Isaiah 61:3 tells us that God will give us “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” God is always in the business of upgrading our thoughts and our trust in Him. So the question is really about our willingness to wear that garment of praise in the midst of a heartbreak. There is always something to be thankful for – the very breath in our lungs, sunshine, and most certainly, His overcoming love. As we begin to praise God for the good things He has done and take our focus off the crisis, He upgrades us with His peace and ultimately restores our joy.
The final key to owning a joy-filled heart is in fact our willingness to live a life of love. In John 15:9-12, Jesus tells us if we keep His command to “Love each other as I have loved you,” that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. In our culture, we have affixed our greatest desires on the things of the world and hinged our joy on the whether or not our earthly desires have been met. God’s very essence is His successful, unfailing love. When we come to understand the incredible gift of that love, and allow the overflow of His love to spill out, even to those who oppose us, we find the true source of uncrushable joy.
As Christ-followers, if we meter our joy through the lens of “good” or “bad” circumstances, we’ve fully missed the bedrock of God’s Kingdom and the priceless gift of His love. Why would others want to be a Christian if we ourselves haven’t yet come to appreciate and rejoice in the greatest gift that lasts well beyond life on this planet? In the midst of any trial, joy is always a choice. How will you choose?