A Case For Joy

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?

Faith For 2021

I received an email around January 8th.  The subject line said, “Unsubscribe.” The first line of the message explained, “I have concluded the 7-day trial of 2021 and would like to unsubscribe.” With the pandemic still raging and hatred across political lines punctuating the first week, the usual hope with which we ring in every new year was swiftly demolished.

My prayer for you is that God will renew an uncrushable hope in your heart for 2021 as you fix your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2) and the true source of every good and perfect thing (James 1:17).  

What exactly is the substance of faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” If we’re being honest, despair seems like the most logical response to what we see in our world right now. And to be sure, there are many ungodly actions in the earth that grieve God’s heart—not because they are out of His sovereign control, but because mankind is abusing His gift of free-will choice to promote and protect self over others.

We are able to stand strong in faith when we first recognize that, on our own, we have no faith! Faithfulness is a gift from God (Galatians 5:22)! Trust is our response to the gift of faith as we stand in confident assurance that the One who promises to never leave or forsake us is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). In other words, if we are wringing our hands right now, we need reminding that God works “all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  “All” means everything, and God is most assuredly working out His purposes to finish the good work He began in Christ to redeem all things (Philippians 1:6). It can be difficult to discern how good can come from pain and suffering, but when we pin our hopes on God and not man for the best possible outcome, we will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). 

The exercise of our faith muscle occurs when we trust God for the unseen blessing and thank Him for His great goodness even in the midst of every fiery trial. Working out faithfulness in God’s gym requires obedience to His clear direction, even when trusting Him seems absurd to our logical minds. Abraham exercised faith when he left his home and ventured forth to an unknown destination (Hebrews 11:9), just as missionaries do.  We see faith in the prayers of a grieving spouse who thanks God for the gift of eternity, or in the elderly neighbor who prepares meals for a much younger family going through difficult days. We thank God for the couple who, by faith, sold their beautiful home to live expectantly in a small, temporary space, in hopes of moving soon onto our college’s campus to minister to the brokenhearted from that place. Then there’s the retired couple who left their home, family, friends and comforts behind to serve across the country, accomplishing construction projects for Christian ministries. 

Faith is evidenced every single time one of God’s beloved eagerly says “Yes!” to opportunities to be His light and love to the watching world. Faith is doing the hard thing for the good of others in obedience to God’s nudge. Faith is refusing to speak negatively about others and instead, praying for their blessing of faith and forgiveness while loving them with the Father’s heart. Faith is not about offering grand public gestures of doing good. Faith is a lifestyle of quietly trusting the God of the universe and walking in step with His direction, moving as He moves, and hoping with eager anticipation for stunning answer to prayer.

Jesus tells us that He will return, bringing rewards to each person according to what he has done (Revelation 22:12). And He also asked in Luke 18:8 if He would find faith in the earth when He comes back. Great question! What act of faithful obedience is God calling you to right now? Where is He stretching your faith muscle to hold onto hope and even to stand with joy as you trust confidently in Him? Know that God “is good to those whose hope is in him; to the one who seeks him!” (Lamentations 3:25). As we stand together with the Almighty—prayerful and hopeful—we can trust Him for great things in 2021!

Look to the Manger

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us of our Lord’s most humble beginnings—born in a stable among the
animals and placed in a manger. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and
to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)


One of the stunning details of the Christmas story is the manger. It’s the place where food is placed for
the livestock. In French, the word manger means “to eat.” And what food do we find in the feeding
place? Jesus!


In John 6, (v. 35, 51-57) the LORD declared Himself to be our food. “I am the bread of life. Whoever
comes to me will never go hungry, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this
bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Very truly I tell
you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats
my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real
food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in
them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will
live because of me.”


Do you think of Jesus as your food? Do you feast on Him as your greatest need and desire? He is the
sacrificial lamb. At the first Passover, the Hebrews were told to cook a lamb and to eat it all. God knew
they would need physical strength for their journey out of exile. As we eat the bread during the LORD’s
supper in remembrance of His great sacrifice, we are taking Jesus in afresh on the inside, where He
dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need Him on the inside as the fuel for our respective
journeys and the light to guide us on our way. As we remain in Him, we discover in fullest measure who
He created us to be—living reflections of the image of God!


So during this season of remembering Jesus’ birth, may we not neglect the food that has already been
provided to us in Christ! May He be the supply of our every need, the answer to every prayer, and our
daily provision of strength. May our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and joy in realizing that God knew exactly what we needed and supplied His very best for our good and His Glory!

Look to the Manger

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us of our Lord’s most humble beginnings—born in a stable among the animals and placed in a manger. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

One of the stunning details of the Christmas story is the manger. It’s the place where food is placed for the livestock. In French, the word manger means “to eat.” And what food do we find in the feeding place? Jesus!

In John 6, (v. 35, 51-57) the LORD declared Himself to be our food. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”

Do you think of Jesus as your food? Do you feast on Him as your greatest need and desire? He is the sacrificial lamb. At the first Passover, the Hebrews were told to cook a lamb and to eat it all. God knew they would need physical strength for their journey out of exile. As we eat the bread during the LORD’s supper in remembrance of His great sacrifice, we are taking Jesus in afresh on the inside, where He dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need Him on the inside as the fuel for our respective journeys and the light to guide us on our way. As we remain in Him, we discover in fullest measure who He created us to be—living reflections of the image of God!

So during this season of remembering Jesus’ birth, may we not neglect the food that has already been provided to us in Christ! May He be the supply of our every need, the answer to every prayer, and our daily provision of strength. May our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and joy in realizing that God knew exactly what we needed and supplied His very best for our good and His Glory!