Discovering True Joy in Struggles
Are you waiting for the day when most of your problems are gone? When you enter a better season that’s much more suitable for your “happiness” factor? If you’re like me, for a long time I believed “I’ll be filled with more joy when…” and I had all kinds of ways to complete that line.
This, however, I’ve learned and am still learning. Happiness and joy are as opposite as salt and pepper. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s totally AWESOME when they happen at the same time. But when there’s a deep-rooted sadness over a situation we can’t fix, joy feels impossible. Yet, Paul writes in Philippians 4:4 to rejoice always. He must be living the “blessed” life. Right? No, he is writing these words in prison, and to further the matter, he later speaks of himself in 2 Corinthians as being “sorrowful yet rejoicing.” Does he know something we don’t? Apparently so.
Many of you are going through grim struggles: husbands have passed away way too soon, children are breaking hearts, or reports from the doctor contain devastating news. How is it possible to have joy in these scenarios? In spite of great sufferings that seem too big to bear, Paul offers a pathway that enables us to move forward with peace.
Years ago I learned there are three kids of joy. The first is emotional joy. This kind of joy is based on our emotions. For example, if we’re feeling relieved, we think we’re experiencing joy. Or if we’re excited that we’ve lost a few pounds, we’re joyful. Is this the joy Paul was speaking of? No. Both instances describe a feeling of happiness, which is an emotion that comes and goes, originating from an outside stimuli. It’s rooted in cosmetic issues.
Then there’s circumstantial joy. This kind of joy is determined by the happenings around us. Perhaps, you lost your job, your health has taken a down turn or your former husband did not pay child support. “If only circumstances were different,” we say. “Then I’d find joy.” Again, this isn’t true joy. Instead it’s a kind of joy based on secular realities that are unpredictable, leaving one constantly vulnerable to outside elements. Both of these two kinds of joy leave one on the rollercoaster ride of life.
Lastly there’s the kind of joy Paul was talking about: spiritual joy. It has nothing to do with our emotions or circumstances. It’s not a joy based on temporal things. It’s a joy based solely on the Lord—not touched by the world and revolving around who God is and what He has promised for His children. It’s a reality that surpasses our understanding. It’s a peace that abides in the heart that knows no matter what, all is well because Jesus is in the midst of its outcome. It’s not driven or tossed by temporal issues but remains a constant inside stabilizer above emotions or circumstances.
So here are the two big questions. How do we cultivate spiritual joy? And how did Jesus nurture this kind of joy as He considered the cross? Hebrews 12:2-3 unlocks the secret, and might I add The Message Bible gives a flavorful explanation: Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: the Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story attain, item by item that long litany of hostility he plowed thorough. That will shot adrenalin in your souls!
So we get to pick. Which will govern our day? Emotional joy? Circumstantial joy? Or spiritual joy?