At her question I smiled as joy fueled my soul disregarding the details of my current afflictions. Her question was one of a deep desire to find purpose in her own pain; it was a longing for meaning in her own worldly madness. That desire and longing to find joy even in suffering was one I’d once felt myself.
You’ve been there, too. Longing for something more. Looking for a way out of the darkness. Wondering if you’ll ever find true purpose in life. Wanting nothing more than to experience the exuberant glee others around you so joyfully display.
Perhaps you’re still there. Waiting. Disappointed. Frustrated. Angry. Miserable. Disheartened.
You’re not alone. But even in your waiting, you can experience joy.
Joy is NOT Happiness
We often confuse happiness and joy. Though the terms are usually defined synonymously, they are very different.
“Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross.”S.D. Gordon (1859-1936)
Happiness comes and goes like the seasons. It’s momentary. It’s surface-level emotion. It’s dependant on our circumstances. Unfortunately, choosing to live in a world in which our emotions are solely based on circumstance will keep us from truly experiencing the joy of the Lord.
But joy … joy is much deeper. It’s rooted in the heart. Contrary to happiness, joy is an established and secure feeling of peace, hope, and pleasure regardless of our circumstances and despite our suffering. It’s established, or securly rooted, in our faith — hoping in the things we cannot see (Heb 11:1).
Just as a plant establishes itself by growing roots in order that it may draw nourishment and maintain its strength, we take root in Christ through whom our soul is nourished and strengthened (Isa 55:1-3). Without roots, plants would lack the ability to draw the necessary nourishment and subsequently fail to experience its full potential. Likewise, without roots we fail to experience everything God has to offer us.
The Journey to Joy
There was a point in my life when the road I was traveling was marked with darkness, discord, lonliness, fear, and utter foolishness. Though I still remain a broken and imperfect mess — prone to pain and saddness all the same — I find joy in my brokenness and imperfections. With joy, I no longer just exist in this world but rather I live — I live for what is greater than I and greater than all of my circumstances.
I assure you, joy did not come about overnight. I didn’t wake one morning with a radiant glow nor did I have all the answers after giving my life to the Lord at the age of 24. I looked for joy at the bottom of the bottle and came up empty everytime. I sought joy through relationships and only returned with more heartbreak.
Joy came as the product of an inconvenient, overwhelming, and painful journey. Every inconvenience, every difficulty, and every trial has led me to this place.
Now, bearing countless scars, I rejoice because along my journey I found life. I found The Answer to everything I’d been searching for all along.
The joy of the Lord will forever be my strength (Neh 8:10).
Joy is the product of a journey and every journey looks different. But no matter how different one’s journey, our source of joy will always remain the same.
The Choice is Ours
Our days are full of countless choices. We choose what to eat, what to wear, who to like, when to pray, how to complete a task, and even how to respond to each circumstance. Sure, circumstances can leave us feeling weary and sad but regardless, to have joy in the midst of our weariness and saddness is ultimately our choice.
“[God] will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of [His] presence and the pleasures of living with [Him] forever” (Ps 16:11).
1. Choose to Trust
Joy comes in trusting God’s promises. Jesus himself was able to endure the cross because of the joy awaiting him (Heb 12:2). His joy came in trusting God to fullfill his promise to restore the wayward, the broken, the lost, and the hurting.
Do you have to be happy with your current circumstances? Of course not. You don’t have to be happy to rejoice in the Lord. We can rejoice because we can trust. We can trust that God is working ALL things together for our good just as His Word says in Romans 8:28. We can trust that God is using every circumstance of our lives so that we may live to spread the Good News just as Paul proclaims in Philippians 1:12-14.
2. Choose to Hope
When we can believe that we have a specific purpose in God’s plan it becomes easier to accept moments of pain and difficulty. Like Christ, we can endure our difficult circumstances as we look ahead with hope to what is yet to come.
While trusting God in the process, Jesus was choosing to have hope. He hoped for greater things to come through all of his suffering and this hope gave him great joy as he obediently fullfilled the Father’s will at the cross.
Having hope does not exempt us from suffering. Rather, it leads us to experience a divine joy amidst moments of hardship. To experience true joy even within difficult circumstances we must put our hope in the Lord. Choosing hope is choosing to have joy through our trials and in our waiting.
3. Choose to Focus
When we choose to focus on God, our circumstances no longer determine whether or not we rejoice when war is waged. When we choose to focus on the right things we are choosing joy. When we choose joy, even through the fire and the flood, we experience the wonders of our faithful Father.
Ask yourself: Are your eyes fixed on Jesus or your current circumstance? Are you spending more energy trying to fix your circumstance than you are seeking God in prayer? What are you most focused on — temporary things or eternal things, worldly things or heavenly things?
When we focus on God and His promises it becomes so much more difficult to lose sight of the goal — to finish the race and receive the heavenly prize that awaits us (Phil 3:14).
Had I not chosen joy through the roughest of trials in my life, but rather chosen to allow my circumstances to determine my happiness, I would not have had the courage to follow God’s calling for my life. I would not have the opportunity to serve those who feel they’ve been forgotten, unworthy, and unloved. I would not have the energy to be a parent to the daughter God has asked me to show the way. And I would certainly not have been honoring Christ.
Choosing joy has led me to experience so many of God’s wonders and you, too, can experience those same glorious wonders.
So, my heart may ache, my body may fail and my mind may fear, yet I rest in the arms of the One who created that very heart, body and mind to experience every emotion — both good and bad. And even through the bad, God still reigns.
May you, too, find joy in your storm and joy in your waiting as you seek to trust, to hope, and to focus on the Lord and His promises. May your journey testify to the goodness of our God.