In the last few weeks I’ve been able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with some of my sweet sisters in Christ. There is nothing I love more than simply doing life and following Jesus with the people that I love. I love getting to hear about how God is teaching, sanctifying, maturing, and redeeming the hearts of his children. I love getting to rejoice in the Lord’s work and hear how he is moving on my campus. There is nothing more refreshing and encouraging to me than to sit down and have real and vulnerable conversations with other people. There is something freeing about being completely known and yet still fully accepted and loved.
It has quickly become apparent to me that many of my friends are in a current season of life that is lacking in joy. Relationships have fallen apart. Feelings have been hurt. Family life has been more difficult. Divorce has become the norm. Classes are overwhelming. Graduation is not so distant anymore. The future is about as vague and unclear. Managing money has become a very real and daunting responsibility to take on. Struggles with singleness and loneliness occur more often than not. For many of us, life has not turned out how we thought it would. There is a lot of waiting that is happening….waiting for clarity about the future, waiting for the right spouse, waiting for strongholds to be defeated, waiting for loved ones to come to Christ, waiting for sicknesses to be healed, and waiting for another season of life. Waiting can be exhausting, disheartening, and frustrating. I’m not gonna sugar coat it….its hard to rejoice in the Lord in seasons of waiting….its really hard. It goes against everything rational thought and past experiences. Yet as Christians we are called to rejoice in the Lord, through all things, in every season, in every blessing, in every trial, in everything.
I used to think that I was the only person who struggled with finding joy. I didn’t understand why everyone around me always seemed so happy all the time. I was confused and felt misunderstood…many times I still do feel that way. Now I understand that I am not alone. I constantly struggle with the concept of rejoicing in seasons of suffering…it doesn’t seem possible. The reality is that it isn’t possible.There is nothing in me that would ever cause me to rejoice when I am having a bad day, a bad week, or a bad year. It goes against our very nature to have joy when pain, disappointments, chaos, and brokenness are all around us.
I think that sometimes there is a misconception in the Christian community about what it really looks like to find joy in the Lord. When most Christians talk about joy they first explain that it is different than happiness. They explain that happiness is a fleeting emotion and that true joy is something that is constant and eternal because it is only found in Jesus. They argue that you don’t have to always be happy to rejoice in the Lord. I agree with this 100%. Happiness and joy are two separate issues…I understand that, and I think it is important to understand that. True joy is only found in the Lord, but it doesn’t always look like how we would think it would.
I want to clarify this issue of rejoicing in the Lord and finding joy in a difficult season because I think I really misunderstood the whole concept for so long. I thought that rejoicing in the Lord meant that I always needed to try to be happy even when I wasn’t so that God wouldn’t get mad at me. I didn’t want to disappoint him by being an unhappy Christian. I wanted to glorify God and I didn’t believe that I could possibly do that without being the overly positive-neat-tidy-perfect-knowledgable-likable christian girl. I was failing to live up to the expectation that I thought God was placing on me. When I failed to rejoice I felt like I failed as a Christian. I felt guilt, shame, and condemnation. Why was it so easy for other people to simply “choose joy”? What does that even mean? I think I am gonna stick to “choosing Jesus” and let the other things take care of themselves.
“Finding joy” in the Lord or “choosing joy” in the Lord doesn’t mean that we are always smiling….it doesn’t mean that we are at church and bible study every week just so we can try to somehow attain some sort of joy. It isn’t putting on a happy face and blasting “blessed be the name of the lord” in the car and waving to our neighbors like nothing is wrong. It honestly may not even seem “joyful” to us. It is constantly and consistently choosing to trust that God’s promises are true, that he is sovereign in suffering, and knowing that this world is not our home. It is praising God even if it means getting on your knees crying out to God and asking him to be your joy, and to give you a better understanding of what it truly means to rejoice in all circumstances.
I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this passed year I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression. It’s something that I still don’t completely understand and I wish that it wasn’t a thing…but it is. It’s much harder to find joy in the Lord on days when I am counting down the hours until I get to go to sleep. It’s more difficult to praise God when my anxiety is causing knots and sharp staging pain in my stomach. It’s extremely hard find joy in the Lord when I feel like God is distant and not listening to my prayers. It’s almost impossible for me to rejoice in the Lord when I am crying myself to sleep because this world is sometimes just too much to handle. How can we (how can I) possibly rejoice in the Lord in moments like this, when we are waiting for healing, clarity, breakthrough, and restoration?
As I am typing these words I am actually in a lot of physical and emotional pain. It’s like God’s way of making sure I live out my faith by action and not just by word of mouth. I am tired, I am in pain, I am anxious, I am uncomfortable, and I feel uneasy. So….I have a choice to make. I can get angry at God, I can doubt his goodness, and I can worry…or…. I can sit and pray the prayer that has gotten me through some of the most difficult days of my life: “Jesus, be my joy in the waiting. I am having a difficult time being content in this season of waiting…please be my joy today.” I ask God to produce joy in me so that others may feel encouraged or loved by me; I beg God to be my joy in the moments that I have none; I ask God to sustain me in the time between now and eternity with Jesus; I confess my inability to be joyful on my own and ask him to literally be my joy.
When you think about it, we are all currently in a season of waiting. If you are a follower of Jesus you are eagerly awaiting the day that you will meet Jesus face-to-face. Your body and soul aches and yearns for something more than this world has to offer….it yearns for our eternal home in heaven. This world is completely broken and in completely need of Jesus; its understandable that rejoicing can be difficult.
What does it practically look like to find joy in the Lord? And why do we need to even put in the effort to do so?
I put in the effort to fight for joy every single day because it is my deepest desire that the people that I interact with would see Jesus’s power working in me. My heart is aligned with God’s and I desire to bring him glory in everything I do. I want others to see the joy in me that can only be explained by the presence of the living God living in me. Without Jesus I literally cannot have joy…. I can’t. Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. The same spirit that is living inside of us is the spirit that rose Jesus from the grave. The spirit of God produces joy in us…it’s not something we have to do on our own (praise God!) For me personally, finding joy in the Lord can look very different at different times. Sometimes finding joy in the Lord means praising God for my salvation, my church, my friends and family, beautiful weather, provision, protection, rest, love, laughter, and fun. Sometimes I find joy in hearing about how God is moving in the lives of other people. Other times I find joy in growing in my faith and learning more about Jesus. Sometimes I find joy in the fact that God is allowing me to participate in his kingdom. Other times I rejoice in the freedom to worship and sing praises to God. I rejoice in the salvation of other people, and I rejoice in the promises of God.
On days that are particularly difficult, finding joy means crying/praying myself to sleep, begging God to put a new song in my heart because I trust him to do so; it means praising him for every ounce of blood that he has poured out on the cross for me; it means praying, trying to start my day, feeling anxious, and going back into my room to pray more because it is only his presence that produces life-giving joy and peace within my soul. It is complete and utter dependence on God, which ultimately brings me more joy that anything else in the world. Finding joy in the Lord doesn’t mean that we are always happy…we have permission to feel, to be sad, to be angry, to be confused……that is all okay. As we have previously discussed, joy in the Lord and fleeting emotions are two separate things. We can feel all of those things (and more) listed above, and still find joy in the Lord. It’s not all smiles, but it is actively choosing to shift our attention from the circumstances that surround us to our true and living hope, Jesus. Its trusting that God is who He says he is and will do what He says he is going to do.
As hard as it is, I refuse to allow my joy to be dictated by anything other than Jesus. There are many days that I really do lack joy and I am ungrateful for the life that God has given me. But, with the power of Jesus within me, I am ready and willing to fight the good fight for joy so that others may know the Lord. I will leave you guys with this:
“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” -John 16:22
When you have a relationship with Jesus, no one will take your joy from you….no man, no woman, no father, no mother, no son, no daughter, no friend, no co-worker, no circumstance, no enemy….no one and nothing will take your joy from you. What a sweet promise to cling to. He is our joy in the waiting, he is our joy in eternity, he is our joy forever & always.