Joy: Theory and practice
If we needed further education on where to find joy, 2020 was the year to move on from the lessons in theory to taking the practical class. We know, in theory at least, that joy is found in Christ, in salvation and a sure hope of heaven.
…According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice… you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-6, 8-9
This alone is enough to cause rejoicing for eternity. That’s ‘Living with Joy 101’, the foundation class. However, our natural inclination in the practicalities of life is to look for joy in favourable circumstances and an abundance, or at least a sufficiency, of possessions; to find joy in having rather than in losing. We have all suffered loss to a greater or lesser degree in the past year. Is it possible to learn to ‘live with it’ and yet be joyful?
New normals are not a new thing
Life as we knew it before Covid-19 always had changes and losses. There were always ‘new normals’ to deal with, whether the life-changing birth of a first child or the devastating death of a loved one; the excited nervousness of starting a first job or the anxiety of unexpected unemployment; a pain-relieving, mobility-enabling hip replacement or a frightening, life-altering diagnosis.
Is it possible to live with joy through all the changes of a lifetime? Can we live with joy in 2021 even as we continue to live with Covid-19 restrictions, an even greater surge in cases and another lockdown?
Living with joy in the hard stuff
It is clear from God’s Word that disciples of Jesus are meant to be joyful even when God gives us hard things to live with.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
We are to find joy in knowing the purpose of the hard things we face. Trials test our faith and produce steadfastness as part of the perfecting and completing work which the Lord is doing in our lives. Another fruit of this work of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
Philippians 4:4 tells us to, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’ This is a command. We must choose to obey it. How might we do that?
Choose to think about things that will bring joy. Meditate on God’s love that led him to provide a way for you to escape his just wrath; on the suffering of Jesus on your behalf; on the inheritance that awaits you. Give these thoughts enough time to bring rejoicing.
Hasn’t it been amazing how we can fill up all the time we have? While some people felt pressure on their time as they juggled working from home and home-schooling, there were no meetings to attend in the evenings. There were no activities to ferry children to and from. Others had even more time to spare, but we were all able to fill up whatever time we had. We had TV series’ to binge-watch, gaming, exercise, reading novels, DIY, time to have a clear-out, gardening and the list goes on. Did we spend more time meditating on salvation and the hope of heaven? ‘The hope of the righteous brings joy’ Proverbs 10:28.
Choose to be steadfast when your faith is tested. This is how we make progress in the process of becoming complete. Be intentional about growing in holiness through difficult experiences. Make an effort not to grumble and complain. Humble heart-searching can be painful but the refining process can lead to greater joy.
‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation’ Psalm 51:12.
Choose to express gratitude to God. Express that gratitude to him both privately and when you speak to others, either as an encouragement to another believer or as a witness to someone not yet in Christ.
During the first lockdown did we say how glad we were that the weather was so good, or did we say how grateful we were to the Lord for blessing us in that way? Many people are voicing a greater appreciation of nature. Take opportunities to express thankfulness to God for his beautiful and intricate creation. ‘For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy’ Psalm 92:4.
Choose to spend time drawing near to God. Read his Word and pray. Joy is to be found there. ‘In your presence there is fulness of joy.’ Psalm 16:11. Whether we are busy or at a loose end, we have to make the choice to spend time with our Father who will, ‘…give good things to those who ask him’ Matthew 7:11. If our joy will speak to others of him and bring glory to his Name, then surely that is a good thing we can ask him to give to us.
I have to admit that I was tempted to turn down the opportunity to write about living with joy. Let’s just say I didn’t feel very qualified! I may be able to pass the theory test, but not always the practicals. Can you relate to that? Perhaps you and I have some choices to make. Let’s choose to live with joy. Let’s go looking for it in the right place,
‘so that the tested genuineness of [our] faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ 1 Peter 1:7.
Esther Parker is a member of Sinclair Seamen’s congregation and PW Home Vice President.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.
Visit the Refined hub here.