One might doubt whether more can be said about storms this week, or even how I could mention the topic of joy. Bleary-eyed newscasters continue to report the current path of a seemingly endless hurricane. The stress of the record-breaking wait for Dorian to relent and move away has exhausted us all. Meanwhile, my heart breaks for those who’ve suffered unimaginable loss. Some have been left with nothing after a monstrous tempest tormented their homeland. I also have friends who’ve recently suffered storms of unimaginable grief in their lives. To lose family or security or home cannot be dismissed or minimized. My heart breaks for each soul who mourns.
So how can I speak of seizing joy in the midst of such agony?
The Lord has delivered messages of light throughout the past weeks. Two women prayed over me at a recent speakers’ conference. Each prayer mentioned rejoicing and light. As Christ-sisters, we embraced one another and offered fervent prayers for the troubles brought before us. Yet through it all, the Spirit laced moments of rejoicing and worship. We also laughed and joked, which proved a balm to our souls. I discovered the beautiful melody of Christian fellowship, in which joyful choruses echo throughout our refrains of need and compassion.
On the surface, seizing joy seems like an impossible and inappropriate choice during the current times of suffering. Yet the moments when darkness drenches our lives are when we need light most of all. Faith serves as our ray of hope during times of pain. We have more to live for, a glorious and indwelling presence with us at all times. As servants of the victorious Lord, we have reason to offer thankful worship when circumstances seem grim. For us, there’s more to life than the troubles surrounding us on the surface.
Thank God, there’s more to life than this suffering!
Scripture doesn’t whitewash the graves of our pain. Jesus never guaranteed us a painless experience in our mortal lives. In fact, Christ foretold the opposite but didn’t leave us only with dark omens. Our amazing Savior added a promise worth celebrating.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
We can only have peace in the storms “IN” Jesus. Despite the ravaging terrors of this world, we can have more to focus on than troubles. Christ has overcome the darkness of this life, death and losses included. He is with us. For us. Within us. With the sustaining presence of his Spirit, we can “take heart” and seize joy.
Jesus modeled the value of joy during his ministry in human form. He performed his first miracle at a wedding celebration and served his last celebration the night before he would sacrifice his life for our salvation. During those three short years, he received criticism for the amount of time he spent partying with repentant sinners.
Christians might receive criticism for joy during times of hardship now. But we know our hope is not in this mortal life. And we also know the Lord is with us throughout all we face on this journey. Jesus experienced loss, betrayal, and intense suffering. He stands with us as one who understands as well as one who sustains our hearts with his love and comfort.
Scripture advises us to take time to mourn, but also to seize moments of joy as medicine to our souls and body.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. – Proverbs 17:22
Research confirms the medicinal effect of laughter upon the human brain, emotional well being, and body. I’ve seen laughter serve as an anti-anxiety medicine at times, even allowing some to reduce the frequency or dosage of anti-anxiety prescriptions. Bernie Siegel, M.D. notes research citing the astounding degree to which laughter improved the prognosis of cancer patients.
While laughter can benefit our health and emotional well being, we know it cannot promise to cure every disease or dismiss our problems. Seizing joy has the power to encourage our souls when we need it most. Rejoicing infuses us with renewed energy and strengthens us during our weakest moments.
In this world we will have trouble. The Lord assured us we’d face problems. But in Christ, we still have an opportunity to “take heart.” And when we choose to seize the joy of our Lord’s presence with us, we will find a life we can make into a radiant blessing to those in the storm with us. We have hope to share, and nothing shares more warmly than tears with thankful laughter to follow.
Choosing thankfulness and joy goes against our human default setting to grumble and wallow in our miseries. The blessings promised by the Lord come with simple and clear instructions, but prove challenging to implement.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7
Our first inclination in suffering is to complain. Not to present requests with thanksgiving. Certainly not to rejoice. The Lord understands our need to vent our pain to him in prayer. But he urges us to move beyond our initial place of venting toward trusting him with our pain. The Psalms of King David frequently demonstrate this pattern. We have these beautiful verses as models for our prayers, and can personalize them during our conversations with the Lord. Jesus spoke the words of Psalm 22, foretold by David generations earlier as an expression of ultimate suffering and of how intense pain makes us feel isolated from experiencing God’s presence.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
– Psalm 22:1
David ends this poetic cry of suffering with an expression of his hope in God’s faithfulness to save us.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
– Psalm 22:30-31
As we pray through the Psalms during our life’s storms, we can move from venting our pain toward rejoicing in the Lord’s faithfulness. Though this praise and thankfulness may not change our circumstances or relieve all of our suffering, we will find a degree of hope and peace in knowing the Lord is with us.
I read a beautiful book last night and must recommend it to you as a tool for journaling your way to increased joy. The Joy Box Journal by Adria Wilkins includes insights and tips for living with greater joy. Adria shares stories of joy amid intense losses and struggles along with uplifting anecdotes to lighten our perspective. Feel free to listen to her interview on Flourish-Meant and learn more about her book.
How will you seize joy this week? I look forward to hearing your comments!