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.
I bought fresh blueberries the other day. They tasted a bit tart at first, but then gave way to sweetness. Living with joy in our lives is a little like eating blueberries. It can be a bit sour as we choose joy in the midst of harrowing circumstances. But as we obey, God’s joy overflows into our hearts and brings an indescribable sweetness.
Galatians 5:22 gives us list of fruit of the Spirit and joy comes right after love. Love motivates and joy sustains. At the moment, I’m covered in snowdrifts and spring with its green growing plants seems so far away.
It’s easy to judge our lives based on what our physical eyes see and then feel disappointed when we don’t see what we want to see. But much of the good that comes out of our lives happens below the surface of what our eyes see. That’s because it’s in ours hearts where change occurs as we yield to the Holy Spirit.
In my flower bed, I have wild-growing yarrow. It’s no respecter of boundaries and creeps into my grass. Imagine if we allowed joy full range into all areas of our lives? The difficulties and the pleasures.
To rejoice when we’re overcome with sorrow tastes bitter, but the bitter turns sweet as we choose joy. But this is the trick–we grow frustrated when we attempt to conjure it up in our own strength. It doesn’t work because it feels fake. And then we develop a wrong belief about it because it’s tainted by our own effort and strength.
But God is full of joy and delights to share it with us. He is joyous and he provides all we need for this life in the thin place. But how do we grow joy in our lives? How do we stop relying on ourselves for it and letting our circumstances dictate it?
When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’re grafted into God’s family. We become part of his family tree. And as we stay attached to the vine and trust God’s process of transformation, we will bear fruit. Even when it seems like no growth takes place. Even when life is bitter.
John 15:1-17 tells us how to have complete joy and that’s by abiding in Jesus. It’s absorbing all the nutrients and allowing him to prune us. It’s yielding to the growth process by remaining in him.
The key to growing this fruit in your life is remaining in Christ. Allow him to be the gardener of your heart and stay close to him as he grows you. We do not drift into maturity. We determine to cooperate with the power of God that is within us on our way to maturity.
It’s in this place of abiding, that we find the most complete joy we could ever know. Jesus asks us to obey, to remain in him, and to love. As we do these three things his joy becomes complete and we know complete joy.
Life is full of troubles, agonies, and sorrows. It’s also full of beauty, fun, and laughter. To live life with joy, we must cultivate its fruit in our lives. As we abide in Christ, we produce fruit. We will also experience pruning so that we produce even more.
I know what it’s like to feel lost amidst the gray dark days of life. We can practice joy by focusing on God’s heart for us. Then by walking with him in that thin place of abundance.
Choosing joy might taste bitter at first, but persist in it. You will see God turn the bitter into sweet and it will bolster your heart.
You can be the brightest gift to those around you because of the joy that’s within you. Cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit to grow you, to guide you, and to produce joy. Rejoice! And again I say Rejoice!
As you obey the Lord, you remain in his love, and as you remain in his love, your joy grows complete. Oh how he loves you!
Joy can be defined as the source of delight.
Read John 15:1-17 asking the Holy Spirit for fresh new insights.
Write Galatians 5:22 on a notecard and paste it somewhere to remind you to remain in the vine.
Choose joy. Delight in God’s goodness, kindness, love, joy, and peace.
God is joyous and filled with joy over you. He rejoices and is glad in you. Do you feel that joy? Or do you look at yourself in the mirror and still see a lost little sheep wandering, taking this path and that path, getting more and more lost?
When life or people or circumstances tell us that we’re not worth someone’s glance or kindness or mercy, it’s easy to believe that God is like the darkness that we see around us. We begin to internalize a life without joy, and a life that leads us to believe that following God down salvation’s road is one of trial and suffering, lacking joy.
My heart broke when a woman told me that she didn’t want to know God anymore than she already did because of what he might ask her to walk through. Her declaration rested on misconceptions about God’s character: That he is a joyless taskmaster rather than a joy-filled, strength-giving, compassionate God.
Misconceptions about God’s character will lead us down a path that’s joyless and lonely. This world overflows with suffering. Everyday someone loses a loved one, a marriage falls apart, kids and parents betray each other, and instead of finding comfort in God’s character, they run to earthly comforts.
The greatest struggle we might need to overcome is how God can simultaneously be joyous and just. Filled with joy and sorrow. Sorrow over his lost ones and joy over his found ones. But maybe it’s not so much as understanding as accepting and experiencing.
We have a saying in my home that if Mama put something away so it’s “safe” that it’s so safe it’s actually lost because I never remember the “safe” places. Several years ago, I needed my marriage license as one of five documents proving to the Iowa Motor Vehicle Department that I am indeed Jessica Marie Van Roekel.
But I couldn’t find it. I searched drawers and cupboards and nooks and crannies. I’m allergic to filing cabinets so I keep ours in the attic. But I trudged up the flight of stairs anyway and pushed open the trapdoor to the attic and glared at the black box.
I rummaged and shuffled and dealt with unruly metal drawers that refused to slide like butter to close. I wrestled those drawers and dealt with the squeaking metal that has the same affect on me as nails on a chalkboard has to you. But for all that annoyance I found no marriage certificate.
Still undaunted I kept looking. For 3 hours. Life stopped. I dumped drawers and rummaged through cupboards. The “safe” place held it’s location secret no matter where I looked. Meanwhile at the courthouse, and unbeknownst to me, my husband decided to have a copy of our license reprinted.
In the meantime, I re-checked that nasty old filing cabinet and found the missing license on the floor of the drawer, underneath the hanging files. I skipped downstairs with joy in my heart just as my husband called to tell me that I could stop my frantic searching. So we now have two copies of our marriage license and both are safe and found. Not safe and lost.
My point? We rejoice when we find what we thought was lost. I felt a little like the parable of the women who lost her coin as I searched for my marriage license.
A long time ago, in a perfect garden, joy, peace, and God and man meeting face to face was lost. And in the ensuing centuries, mankind experienced enmity with God until Jesus’ work of death and resurrection on the cross. God carries joy and sorrow. Sorrow over broken relationship and joy over restored relationship.
God rejoices. It’s part of his character and one we need to embrace. God doesn’t lead and guide us with a stern countenance, but he leads us with joy. He tells us to go forth with songs of gladness. If joy wasn’t an integral part of his character than why do we read so many references encouraging us to rejoice, to experience joy? To know God as joyous is to grow in our relationship with him.
Consider the Parable of the Lost Son. Aren’t we all lost sons and daughters at one time? Haven’t we lost our way and ran away from our God rather than to him? The joy the father felt as he finally saw his faraway son is the kind of joy that God feels for you when you come to your senses and come back home.
No matter where you are in your walk with the Lord–whether you’re like my friend and find yourself adrift in misperceptions about God or resting in the delightful fact that God is rejoicing over you this moment, may your eyes be lit from within because of your preciousness in God’s sight.
He see you and rejoices. He oozes joy because of you. If joy were sparkles, you’d be shimmering like a glitter-bomb.
Remember that thin place? It starts here: Embracing the truth that God is joyous. That he is a laughing kind of Lord who knows gladness when he looks at you because you bring joy to his heart.
Oh friend, how he loves you. How he wants you to know that he abounds with joy and gladness because you are his own.
Rest in that truth. Live from that knowledge. You are God’s joy.
Read Luke 15. Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal God’s heart of joy for you.
The joy series will attempt to uncover different aspects of joy. We will explore the joy giver, joy as fruit, joy-news, joy for others, joy-endurance, joy-strength, and how Jesus completes joy.
However, we live in the tension of not home yet and living fully present in our very real, very specific to us here and nows. These tensions can cause us to chase after things that don’t satisfy us or to embrace the false belief that misery equates holy.
But we must learn to navigate this life in fullness and abundance while still being aware that this life is not our true home.
It’s a thin place of beauty if I can remember to stay in it. But it seems too easy to fall the to one side where I embrace this world’s pleasures a little too enthusiastically or to lean to the other extreme where I’m too “heavenly minded” to be much good in the here and now.
That thin place is the place where we grasp a true understanding of grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve and it’s the power that transforms us. The thin place is where joy and sorrow live in harmony; fear and courage run hand in hand; and faith and doubt wrestle.
The Lament Series walked us through the process of expressing our true heartfelt emotions and thoughts in ways that bring us to the Giver of Life. The Refuge Series taught us that God wants us to run to him even in the midst of excruciating disappointment and doubt.
In the joy series we will cover what joy is, what it’s not, and what we do when we don’t feel joyous and how it all relates to the thin place of walking in abundance while living as lights in this world.
Did you know that joy is referenced 150 times in the Bible and rejoice over 200 times? Combined, that makes for just about one verse a day to feed our hearts a steady diet of joy. And then if we add in the synonyms for joy, such as delight, glad, and blessed, we begin to see an overarching theme of joy woven throughout the entirety of the word of God from Genesis to Revelation.
Imagine what your life would be like if joy was the silken thread that tied all your yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows together. What would it be like to take a bird’s eye view of your life’s tapestry? Would you see that silky golden joy-thread woven throughout? Would it look a little like mine: scarce in some areas and abundant in others?
Joy is not contingent on circumstances. Joy is wholly contingent on God and our response to him. Joy reminds me of the velveteen rabbit whose sorrow brought him long lasting “realness”. Real joy.
Your joy doesn’t have to be some contrived smile that only rests on your cheeks and never makes it to your heart. Joy is much more than an emotion. It’s complex and beautiful and mysterious.
The next few weeks as we explore joy in the biblical sense and God’s going to reveal himself to us in new ways. He’s going to show us how to live in that “thin place” of being in the world, but not of it, and how joy is the key to this place of abundant living.
The lament arc takes us from despair to release to hope and to praise because it allows for the full expression of emotions this life creates. Our responses to our life experiences can drive us towards God but when we tuck our emotions into a chest in the depths of the attic we rob ourselves of a deeper authenticity with Christ.
As we explore the lost language of lament, we discover a freedom in approaching God to receive the grace he longs to bestow. Our hearts swell with faith, hope and love as we realize that God gave us this language to communicate with him and that he longs to hear our hearts.
We cannot believe that lament is merely a venting session of all the ugly that hides in our heart. Venting the full breadth of our emotions without biblical exhortation results in a gossipy, negative view of our struggles and the people in it.
I’ve been a journal-er for numerous years, and several years ago as I read through an old journal, I cringed at the judgmental, negative, self-righteous way I sounded. I had the full expression of my emotions and crying out to God for help written in black and white, but the confession of trust, the petition for help, and any type of praise was noticeably absent.
My lament felt despairing rather than hopeful.
My penned words made me want to cast that journal in the nearest burn pile.
Instead, it’s tucked into the bookshelf, flat against the back with other books placed in front of it, spines lined up like little soldiers in a row. I didn’t throw it away because it’s my reminder of the importance of learning the biblical lament.
Praise is the final piece in the biblical lament.
We read, “Praise the Lord” or “Bless the Lord” or “I will offer my praise in the assembly” and we wonder how can that be possible when our lives fall apart.
Part of the biblical lament is preaching to your own soul. And in the praising God for his goodness because he’s faithful and kind and true, we minister to our own hearts.
Let’s read David’s word in Psalm 31:19-24
“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the Lord, all you saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”
David ends his lament with words of praise. He praises God for his abundant goodness and reminds himself to keep fearing the Lord and finding refuge in him.
Do you need this reminder? It’s far too easy to let your circumstances dictate your responses, but what if the next time life tried to melt your heart like wax and cause you to place your fear in the unknowns of “what if”, you tried praise?
One of the Hebrew words for praise is Towdah and it renders as a “confession of thanks and praise for what God is going to do.” We cannot confuse what we wish God to do based on our agenda, but we must base our praise on what God is going to do because of his character.
His character is solid. He doesn’t forsake you because he is faithful. He brings light to your darkness because he is light. He gives good gifts because he is a good Father. He brings you strength because he is full of joy.
Praising God based on his character is what allows our heart to grab hold of courage. Praising God in our lament reminds us that God is God and we are not and that the whole world rests in his hands and on his shoulders. Not ours.
As we surrender control over the outcome of our situations, we turn to the language of biblical lament and we find hope and courage for our weary hearts.
Ending our lament with praise points our hearts to our good, good Father and fills us with hope.
Read Psalm 31 and use it as a model of lament in your current situation. Start with the cry, move into expression of pain, confess your trust, petition God to act on your behalf, and then praise him for what he is able to do.
A litany of voices dash through my mind whenever I ask for help or clarification. And they sound a little something like this:
“Shouldn’t you know this?”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“That’s a stupid request.”
“You didn’t ask correctly.”
My heart races and the idea cements that I need to figure things out on my own. Asking Google or Alexa seems so much safer because I can ask my question and get my answer without the risk of irritating someone else.
The idea of asking for help seems foreign to many of us. In a self-sufficiency driven culture, the pressure to know all things or at least perceive to know all the things creates a pride that prevents us from asking.
Pride can also disguise itself as insecurity and whispers that we’d just better figure this life out on our own because we’re really not that important to God anyway.
I wrestle with both and it’s good chance you do too.
If we turn to the first few chapters in Genesis, we discover the tendency of human nature towards self-sufficiency. Two human beings in a perfect relationship with God hid from God once sin entered the world. Instead of running to God they ran away. They attempted to solve the problem on their own.
Our tendency is independence and self-sufficiency, but self-sufficiency and independence feeds the pride that prevents us from running to God in times of need. When we screw up, we want to cover up. But God asks us to uncover and run straight to him.
Hebrews 4:12-16 tells us that God sees all things because everything is laid bare before him. It tells us that we have a high priest who intercedes for us and makes a way for us to boldly approach the throne of God to receive the grace we need.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Imagine if we approached all our problems with this mentality. What if, instead of running away from God, we ran toward him crying for help, pouring our hearts out to him, and confessing our trust while asking for what we want?
This is the power of lament: it brings us to a place of peaceful trust because we run towards God instead of away. It gives our heart a place to dump all it’s garbage and allows God to make something beautiful out of it.
We don’t need to have it all figured out before we come to God. We don’t need to be prim and proper or spit and polished. It’s in the coming to him– just as we are– where he refines us and creates beauty out of ashes.
There is verse after verse about the importance of bringing our petitions to God.
Matthew 7:7, Hebrews 4:16, Psalm 107:28-30, Matthew 6:6-8, John 4:10, John 14:13-14, Psalm 121:2, Luke 11:13, John 15:16, James 1:5, 1 Peter 5:7, Phil. 4:6-7, 1 John 1:9, and 1 John 5:14-15.
Using our Psalm 31 as a model we see how David brought his petition before the Lord.
14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. 16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. 17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead. 18 Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
David begins this petition portion of his lament with a redeclaration of his trust in God. But then he goes on to ask for deliverance from his enemies, and that God would save him. He petition God to look towards him and let him not be put to shame.
Doesn’t this echo what’s often hiding in our hearts? That God would do something about our circumstances and that his face would be turned towards us–in the big and little stuff of life?
Practice crying out to God for help, pouring out your heart to him, confessing your trust and petition him.
Being fully honest with the Lord requires practice and it might be tempting to cover up your angst. But lean into the process. You might not have all the answers, but your faith in the One who does will grow.