Many of the Psalms reference imagery that gives us an ability to express our hearts and to know comfort. Such as: The Lord is my rock and fortress who reaches down and draws me out of deep waters. Or: he makes my feet like the feet of a deer and enables me to stand on the heights.
One of most comforting imagery in the Psalms is related to sight. Time and again, the Psalms remind us that we’re not hidden from God’s sight. He sees and he cares for us, but at times it feels as though God plays hide and seek, and we’re left blind folded as we stumble for our next step.
Do you ever feel as though you can’t see? It’s as though confusion and darkness swirl around you and each time you think your vision is about to clear, another gust of wind blows through your life. It’s wearying and demoralizing. So we cry out to him and he answers, but do we hear him?
It’s like a little one who hit her head, and whose loud cries drown her mother’s voice. Her pain consumes her reality and she cannot receive comfort because she cannot hear it. We can be like that little one too. We can be so immersed in our pain that we cannot hear God’s whisper so we determine that he’s not there at all. But today’s Psalm reminds us of the truth that he does hear and he is with us.
“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order than man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.” Psalm 10:17-18
In this Psalm, we see that we will be afflicted, we will need defending, we will feel alone and oppressed. These are the realities of a broken life. Sometimes we’ll be bombarded by all four of them, and other times we’ll experience a reprieve. Life consists of deep valleys, dry desserts, lush meadows, and high mountaintops.
We have this life race to consider and this abundant life that Jesus promises happens in the middle of the journey. Abundance doesn’t equate to physical prosperity, but an abundance of heart and joy and love and peace and fruit of the spirit. That’s our abundance. And we can have it now.
But. When life feels sparse and cheap, it’s easy to forget that God is still with us. And this Psalm reminds us that he hears our cries, and he encourages us by listening to us and defending us, which means that we might need to hush and be still, resting in him.
A Prayer for Your Heart
Holy Lord, we bless you for your unwavering commitment to us despite our fears, losses, and disappointments. Life is hard. And good. Give us grace to navigate it with peace and acknowledgement of you through it all. Sometimes it seems as though you are hiding and we cannot find you no matter how hard we seek you. Lord, forgive us for doubting your presence and power and lead is into your nearness. Let the truth that you hear our cry settle deep within our heart and may we look to you for encouragement when all we feel is discouraged. You hear our cry and not just hear us, but you listen to us. You are our listening ear and our constancy in our rather inconsistent life. Let us grow in you, rest in you, and depend on you more and more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The lyric’s significance rushed over me. The words reverberated in my head and grew wildly in my heart as I realized the power within them.
“If I have you, I have everything. But without you, I have nothing. If I have you, I have everything, but without you, I have nothing.”
And right there, face pressed into the shag of the bedside rug, I laid it all down. Jesus, my everything, even if I have nothing. The nothing represented by loss, sorrow, and void. Dreams that seemed like dust swept away. Hopes that bore no fruit.
But to still have Jesus is joy. As the power of those words rushed over me, I thought of our series on joy and saw how the lyrics supported the idea that joy isn’t a fluctuating emotion, but joy is completed in Jesus.
Jesus Completes Our Joy
Prior to knowing Christ, we’re captives to sin. But when we receive Christ, he ransoms us from captivity. “The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 51:11
Jesus paid our ransom and gave us new life so that we might return to God. Our heads are crowned with everlasting joy, and as we allow salvation’s gladness to overwhelm us, our sorrow and sighing abate.
But as we learn to live this new life, we discover that renewing our mind is a process, and we struggle against sinful behavior because of the battle between the flesh and the spirit that rages inside our heart.
And we, like David in Psalm 51, can cry out for a clean heart and we can pray, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12
Jesus completes our joy when he rescues us from a life of eternal separation from the Lord. He took this captive–bound by her sin–and set her free. He can do the same for you.
The Old Testament Israelites show us that outward rules and regulations don’t change the heart. Jesus makes a way for hearts to unite with the Father’s. God is joyous. He delights in you and me. He looks upon us with joy, but he’s holy, righteous, and just too.
And so Jesus made a way that enabled God to write his heart on our hearts, to complete the joy he has about us in us through Jesus. We don’t have to live our lives separate from God, thinking that salvation comes through what we do.
Salvation is God’s free gift through belief in his son. He asks us to believe.
Will you believe?
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Joy is like the fireworks painting the night on the fourth of July. You anticipate it, but you don’t know exactly when it will happen. You hear the explosion, the sky lights up, and sparkles with the designs of the creator.
Salvation’s joy is like that firework display that elicits ooo’s and aah’s and smiles that stretch a mile wide.
We’re saved from captivity, ransomed for freedom and joy overflows.
We believe and then we’re invited to abide. John 15:10-11 states, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandantst and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Abiding takes place as we surrender, submit, and obey the Lord.
Imagine a tank of water and standing beside it is someone holding a bolt in one hand and a piece of wood in the other and drops them both into the tank.
The bolt sinks. The wood floats.
But if the bolt is attached to the wood, the nature of the wood transfers to the bolt and the bolt floats.
If we attempt to live this Christian life in our own strength and understanding, we’re like the bolt and we sink. But if we abide in Christ and take on his nature, we float.
Jesus completes God’s joy because he ransomed and saved us.
Our joy is complete when we believe and abide in him.
How do we translate joy into strength when this life seems to drain us of our energy?
We live in the thin place where we function in this world but not of the world. Where we embrace grace so that we can live well with grace while resisting the temptations of the world that hold us back and prevent us from standing strong in the faith that saves.
It’s in the thin place where we realize that we don’t affect transformation but that God works within our surrendered hearts so that we experience renewal. If we look within ourselves for joy and fulfillment we’re let down. If we look to others then we join the human race of competition and comparison where we’re always, always disappointed.
But if we look to God for joy, we discover the source of joy, and the strength to face the troubles that comes with this life.
The end of Nehemiah 8:10 states, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” In context, we discover the Israelites weeping as they listening to Ezra reading the word of God.
Nehemiah tells the people that it’s good and right to be sorrowful over their sin, but not to allow their sorrow to be so excessive that it hinders their joy in God and cheerful service. He exhorts them to find strength in God’s joy.
This joy of the Lord as our strength is not found in the flesh, but found in the holy understanding that God is good, that his grace directs and governs our lives, and that our hearts delight in his love and favor.
God is Good
Many times the world seems to disprove this, but if we look with eyes to see, we find God’s hand. At times we expect God to ride in on a white stallion and remove us from our situations, when in reality, he sends people along with a kind word, a gentle smile that gives us the strength to endure. We can serve other’s in this way as well.
God is good. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean he endorses them. This life holds pain, struggles, triumph, and joy, and we mustn’t judge God based our circumstances. Knowing the joy of the Lord as our strength begins with wrapping our minds around the truth that he is good.
God’s Grace Directs and Governs
God’s grace does not endorse sinful behavior, but makes a way to resist the behavior that separates us from him. We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re born sinners. God’s grace governs and directs our lives and makes a way for us to resist temptation.
As living sacrifices we struggle with the battle between our flesh and our spirit and it’s through God’s grace that we’re able to be renewed. God’s transforming grace governs our lives as we surrender to him day after day. His joy is our strength to say “yes” to him over and over.
God Loves and Favors Us
Joy as our strength to obey comes through the celebration of God’s love and favor for us. Receiving God’s love is foundational to our day to day walk with Christ.
He loves you with an everlasting love that doesn’t waver based on your feelings, but remains constant because God is constant. It’s his consistent love that compels us to obey him even when it’s hard. God’s love propels us onward because his joy is the oil that lubricates the wheels of our obedience.
His favor rests on you, the apple of his eye, and motivates you to obey his call in your life. He calls us to live a worthy life: a life clothed with compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, love and obedience.
The joy that radiates from him like a piercing light is the place where we receive the strength to do the hard things like resisting our sinful nature and saying yes to the ways of God.
God’s joy is our strength to receive his forgiveness and to live like we’re forgiven. Yes, we grieve over our sin and troubles in this life, but we also can live in abundance and God’s joy is the strength that enables us to do so.
Joy as a feeling is something we’re familiar with, but joy as fuel is something entirely different.
We need motivation when we tackle unpleasant tasks and procrastinate like crazy. There’s an idea that we’ll feel joy once we accomplish the tasks, but in order to understand joy as fuel, we must shift our perspective.
Joy is not the outcome of finishing, it’s our motivator. Especially when we face trials. Jesus faced trials during his earthly ministry ending with the ultimate trial of a horrific death. So what was his motivation?
Jesus is fully God and had the power of God at his disposal while on earth, but he chose to live as fully man. He experienced a face to face with the devil, crowds that gloried in what he could do for them, and gangs that attempted murder. He faced traps set by church leaders, betrayal by disciples, and misunderstanding by all.
Beyond obedience and love, what motivated Jesus to continue down this path of exceeding trials?
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Jesus focused on joy as he endured the cross and shame.
We may not face execution via crucifixion, but we do face trials that require endurance. Your relationships may crumble. You experience blackballing. People slander your character and you choose things that destroy your reputation. Consequences of our choices and other people’s decisions haunt our days and prompt nightmares.
We shift our perspective that joy is somehow developed by outside circumstances to an inward realization that we’ve misunderstood joy all these years.
God is our joy.
When we allow him to nurture our hearts and to feed our souls by his love, joy, and word rather than depending on outside stimuli, we can know the kind of joy that causes us to endure well.
James takes it a step further in James 1:2 where he states that we should “consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds.”
Not just any joy, but pure joy. Not the kind that masquerades and fools us into looking for it in the outcome of our circumstances, hopes, and dreams. But joy in God and all he holds out to us to receive.
Christian maturity on this earth is just as important as our eternal destination. God promises us peace, joy, goodness, and mercy here and these grow in us as we mature. In order to reach that maturity we need to shift our perspective about the difficulties we face.
We can find the joy that fuels endurance when we realize that faith undergoes a refinement.
It’s so easy to quit when life gets hard. We think running away from our trials is the answer, but it’s not. Standing firm in Christ and facing our trials is where we discover perseverance in order to face our trials with grace and dignity. And, yes, joy.
Just like a photographer chooses his focal point, we can choose ours as well. We can choose to let our trials blur and sharpen our focus on God’s almighty kindness.
His kindness leads us to repentance and his kindness fills our heart with joy. Focus on his joy as you navigate your trials. Open your bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the message God has for you. Look for his heart in his Word.
As you develop a completed picture of the Lord, it becomes easier to focus on him and let the your aches and disappointments blur so that you see him clearly.
As you do this, you begin with a framework and with each revelation the pencil outline of God’s character gets filled in, color and perspective is added. Today, sketch God’s outline with these three words: Joy. Kindness. Mercy. And let the Holy Spirit begin to fill it with color and depth.
The Takeaway for Joy
Meditate on these verses about God’s kindness, mercy, and joy.
My heart hurts and feels bruised by disappointments and relationships. I trudge through the same routine over and over again. I’m weary of white. Of the threat of water in my house if I wash a load of clothes or use the shower. The feeling of failure looms over my ability or inability to wife and mother well.
It’s in these moments when I need my relationship with my Father God, even if I’ve been distant with him. Friendships have felt dangerous due to recent relationship rejections. And I hold myself together by sheer will and search for joy.
You develop a friendship only to realize weeks or years later that it was false. And realize that it’s like a trick pack of gum kids use on one another and wonder if relationships are worth it. But as difficult as relationships are, we need them to develop joy in our lives.
Partly because we’re instructed to bear one another’s burdens, to share sorrows as well as joys. Our lives need relationships even when friends bruise our hearts. I’m drawn to people like a moth to a flame even while I toy with the idea of disavowing future relationships.
I love people. I want to know if you’re a morning or night person or if you like to shop or hate it or if you’re a hopeful pessimist or a realistic optimist. What sorrows and joys have you lived and what has scarred you and how have you healed. Do you like coffee or tea or neither?
You’re interesting before I even meet you, but I wrestle with fear of you too. Rejection is a possible outcome.
Fear and curiosity tussle within me. Sometimes fear wins and I sacrifice myself on the altar of your approval. And other times curiosity wins and the security of God’s love propels me forward. And sometimes I move forward with fear dogging every step.
Joy and Our Walk with Christ
Joy and our relationships relate to one another. We get to live this life as a believer and follower of Christ in community, not in isolation. And it’s in community that we learn to choose right actions, to temper our responses to reflect Christ, and to share the joy of the Lord.
We contribute joy to another’s life when we refresh others, and when we live our lives in ways that honor the teaching we received about the Lord.
Paul and John write about this throughout the New Testament. He references how his hearers bring him joy when they give themselves to the whole of Jesus’ teaching and their lives change.
We bring joy to our mentors, friends, teachers, and spiritual directors when we choose God’s way over ours. His ways don’t always make sense, but when trusted and implemented, bring about joy and lasting change that we could never accomplish on our own.
Who’s teaching have you benefitted from? Do you have someone in your life from whom you receive spiritual direction and teaching? Bring joy to them by living your life according to God’s standards and righteous ways.
Joy spreads. As you learn from a sound biblical teacher, you teach others as you live your life. Whether you realize it or not, there is someone who learns from you. You need others who are a few steps ahead of you and a few steps behind you. And this joy that comes by living lives that reflect the love of Christ become like the spreading ripples of a pebble dropped in a pond.
Relationships: difficult and painful, but oh so necessary. Joy: complex and simple, but contagious.
And just as we affect joy in other people’s lives by how we live our lives, we also bring joy to others as we refresh each other.
Joy and Refreshment
Refresh indicates a restoration, a renewal, and a revival. Do you need your spirit revived? Is life dragging you along and you question whether or not there’s more than this, whatever this may be?
Extend joy by sitting with someone in their sorrow and rejoicing with them in their triumphs. Offer the refreshment joy brings by extending kindness and mercy, overlooking an offense, and extending forgiveness.
When we reach out to someone, our hearts receive refreshment, and the joy overflows and affects the lives around us. We sit with someone in sorrow and we rejoice with someone in their triumphs. Refreshing others brings joy to our hearts.
Let’s hold to the truth that joy comes from a relationship with its source: God. But as a byproduct of receiving that joy, we get to refresh others and be blessed ourselves.
Consider how your life affects someone else’s and take a small step to bring them joy.
Pray: “Lord Jesus, you are my rock, my comfort, my everything, and my joy. Let me live a life worthy of your calling. Lord, I surrender my will and my ways and submit to your transforming power. Let your joy flow from you and to others as I live for you.” Amen.
Have you ever noticed that not all good news floods your life with joy? Sometimes good news brings trepidation, anxiety, concern, or questions.
Sometimes good news brings change, and for some, change causes apprehension, which haunts the joy that the news intended to have. For example, the news of each of my pregnancies carried joy wrapped in anxiety whether or not I would meet my child.
And this is the thing about joy: joy and suffering do not preclude one another. In fact, it’s fully possible to experience joy while suffering, and it’s fully possible to experience suffering and know indescribable joy.
We shouldn’t live this life one where one or the other overshadow each other. They live side by side, at times simultaneously and at other times alternating. But when we try to keep suffering separate from joy, we lose authenticity within ourselves.
Suffering happens. It’s part of growing as a Christian. But we don’t have to be afraid of it.
Foundational knowledge of joy starts with understanding that God is joyous and that joy is fruit. Joy is not a feeling, although it brings emotions. To broaden our understanding of joy we need to expand our understanding of the gospel news.
Luke 2:10, “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The Israelites were a chosen people, destined to show God’s rescue of the world, but they themselves needed rescuing.
It’s this type of good news that joy finds its ability to live side by side with sorrow. And because of the joy that the good news brings, we don’t have to live in acute suffering because Jesus himself takes it and carries it for us.
In Simply Good News by N. T. Wright, we read, “We can be, and we are called to be, good-news people–people who themselves are being renewed by the good news, people through whom the good news is bringing healing and hope to the world at whatever level.”
This is how joy and sorrow live side by side. It’s this understanding of the true meaning of the gospel, which isn’t just to save you from eternal damnation, but it’s also so that you live transformed lives choosing “right-living” so that you can put the world to rights, right where you live.
We get to become good news people, living transformed by belief in the gospel, recruited for God image-bearing work, justified or “put right” by Christ’s death and resurrection so that we can be “putting right” people for the world. We’re healed people whom God brings healing to the world.
This gospel, this understanding of the gospel, is joy unspeakable. It’s joy that sustains us through devastation, suffering, and disappointments because our foundation is God’s truth that he is full of immeasurable love for you and me.
This news should bring joy that swells in our hearts so that we shout it from the rooftops. It enables us to live 2 Corinthians 4:7-9: hard pressed, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not despairing. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed.
Let’s let the good news of the gospel do it’s work within us. It transforms us as we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit. And as we trust God’s heart for us we understand the power of his joy.
Read Colossians for one or two or more weeks. Reading a book over and over reveals new truth each time you read through it. Ponder the truth found in it for living out the gospel.