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Joy in the Hard Times

Here's where we need joy the most.

The Joy of the Lord (6)

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5.12

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1.2-4

Unquenchable joy
The joy we have in the Lord is easy enough to experience when everything’s going well in our lives. If our circumstances are agreeable, then, sure, we can get into the joy of the Lord and sample its many pleasures and delights.

But that is to confuse joy and happiness, and to make favorable circumstances the source of whatever joy we might know. Doing so can easily spill over into idolatry, where we look to things and situations for that which only God can give.

It’s when it seems like everything’s coming down around us, our world is caving in, or someone is treating us wrong that joy is about the last thing we’re thinking about or experiencing. This is the time for grieving, right? Or for righteous anger? Or getting even?

Yet the joy we have in the Lord, because it is His joy, which He shares with us, is always available and ready to hand. If we keep that in mind, and if we practice access to joy at other times, then when trials come upon us, we’ll discover just how unquenchable the joy of the Lord is, and how powerful it can be to buoy and sustain us in the hard times.

It’s in the hard times that we need joy the most, and God is poised to grant it to us by His Presence.

Rejoicing in trials
Jesus and James teach us to rejoice in the midst of trials and adversities, especially those that come upon us because of our faith. James explains why this is so important, so that we might grow in patience and sanctification. Trials play a role in our lives, for they represent an opportunity to increase in Christlikeness. We recall that Jesus knew the joy of the Lord even as He was dying on the cross (Heb. 12.1-3). For this reason alone, we should rejoice when trials come upon us, even though we may grieve and sorrow as we endure them.

It’s hard to understand how we can experience both these affections – sorrow and joy – at the same time. But this is part of the mystery of the Christian life. We travel this life as in a valley of weeping, but our destination, with the reward of unceasing joy that awaits us there, is never out of sight. So, even as we sigh under the weight of our various burdens, our hearts are buoyed with joy, and we find the strength to go on.

Trials have the potential to obscure our joy; so Jesus explained how we may, in the midst of even the most severe trials, make our way through rejoicing into the joy of the Lord. The first line of response to trials is to give thanks and rejoice – to pray, sing, shout, bear witness to the goodness of the Lord, and in other ways to enter the joy that awaits us at journey’s end, and that is always available to us here and now. Rejoicing with thanksgiving can help us enter more deeply into the joy of the Lord.

This way to joy
As we have said, we need to bear in mind that trials and even suffering are simply part of life in our journey toward the heavenly Presence of the Lord. Our duty is not to try to avoid suffering, as though suffering were not to be expected in following Jesus. God gives us suffering just as He gives us saving faith (Phil. 1.29), to make us more like Jesus. Suffering received as a gift, with thanksgiving, can open the door to joy in the Presence of the Lord.

Further, Jesus makes no mention of seeking relief through political means or other forms of social pressure. Instead, Jesus teaches us how to live as citizens of a Kingdom not of this world. We must look into the heavenly places, that we might see Jesus, seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3.1-3), see Him with the eyes of the heart as He is revealed to us in glory in His Word (Eph. 1.15ff.). He is our reward, and the joy we may know in Him is exceedingly great. Meditate on His beauty. Draw near to Him, where He has seated you (Eph. 2.6). Rest in the joy of His Presence, power, and promise. Give thanks to Him with rejoicing, and hope in Him with praise (Ps. 42.5). Follow the example of Stephen, and you will know the peace and joy he did, as he accepted his suffering at the hands of the enemies of the Lord (Acts 7.55, 56; 2 Cor. 4.16-18).

At the same time, look around in the throne room of the Lord at that assembled host of faithful saints and martyrs who have preceded you into their reward and yours, and at the myriad angels who are ready to come to your aid (cf. Heb. 12.1; Dan. 7.9, 10; Heb. 1.13, 14). Remember that those who have preceded us into glory endured many trials, and many of those trials much worse than anything we will ever know (Rev. 4-6; Heb. 11.35-40). Identify with them. Let your mind see them carrying your sanctified prayers to the Lord, glad to identify with you in your trial. Rejoice in the joy they express as they serve God and you in their heavenly abode.

Remember always that your citizenship is in heaven, and that you belong to a triumphant company and race, with whom you always dwell in the Presence of the Lord. Your trials may continue and even grow worse, and they will bring pain and sorrow. But in Christ you may rise above the sorrow and pain to rejoice in the larger and permanent truths of who you are and what you possess in Jesus Christ.

God is with us always, our ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46.1). Thus, though we must endure hardship, trials, suffering, and perhaps even persecution, nothing and no one can wrest us from the Father’s hand (Jn. 10.28, 29); therefore, joy is just a season of rejoicing away.

For reflection
1.  Suggest some practical ways that you might express sorrow and joy at the same time. Why is it important that you do this?

2.  How clear and compelling is your vision of Christ, exalted in glory? Where could you look in Scripture to enhance this vision?

3.  Can you think of any departed saints who endured suffering with patience and rejoicing? How can the example of our forebears in the faith help us to count our trials all joy?

Next steps – Preparation: Spend some time today working on your vision of the unseen realm, and the throne room of Christ. Meditate on Revelation 4 and 5, and any other passages that come to mind (Pss. 45, 47, 93, 110, etc.). Try to form a picture in your mind of that joyous court, and pray with rejoicing over what you see there.

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

All your reading and study should focus on Jesus as the hope of glory. Our book, Know, Love, Serve, can show you how to realize this goal. Order your free copy by clicking here. As we increase in the joy of the Lord, we fulfill our calling as joy-bringers to the people around us, as we explain in our book, Joy to Your World! A free copy awaits you by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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