It’s 2021. You’re scrolling on social media, and all you see are posts about opposing views. Your family members are arguing in the comment section and you just lost a friend over a difference in opinion. Maybe you’re battling loneliness right now, betrayal, or anxiety. Or maybe you’re like me, trying to heal emotional wounds from her past and left with a lot of tears on the bathroom floor. Whatever your situation, I imagine joy isn’t the thing that comes to mind.
Joy is one of those words I feel like I don’t hear often—unless it’s Christmas. Our culture is so much more obsessed with being “happy.” Do some self care, quit your job, or abandon your marriage if that’s what it takes to be happy. The message becomes, “It’s all about you and your happiness!” But the reality is, happiness is temporary. It’s a mirage of an emotion created by the stuffing down of a painful world. It then becomes a cycle of chasing the feeling of “happiness” in order to feel purpose.
Because we so often talk about happiness, we have no idea what joy looks like! We’ve allowed the world to teach us that joy looks like happiness. If I don’t look or feel joyful, then that means I’m not.
This is simply not true.
Joy Begins with Tears
When I think about being joyful in a hard season, I initially get discouraged. I hear the lie from the enemy on what joy looks like and what I’m “supposed to be” as a Christian woman. If I don’t look or feel joyful in a trial, then I must be doing something wrong, right? Yet, all the enemy really wants is for me to stuff down my emotions to look happy on the outside, ultimately leading to anything but joy.
And just to be clear, joy does reveal itself through an outward expression, but it doesn’t often start there. Joy can initially look like many things including peace, patience, faithfulness, love, hope, and/or obedience.
Jesus tells the disciples in John 16:20, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
Jesus is foretelling his persecution to his disciples. They are confused at why he is saying those things, so he tells them they will grieve first—but then it will turn to joy. In the same way, Jesus knows what will happen to him. He knew he would endure the cross and his heart grieved, asking the Father, “if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” ( Luke 22:42). After Jesus was strengthened by an angel, he got up knowing what needed to be done. Jesus shares with the disciples that they will have joy because Jesus is already experiencing that same joy. Jesus wanted the cup to be taken from him, but his foremost desire was to do the Father’s will. Jesus knew what awaited him on the other side, and he was obedient—even to death on cross (Philippians 2:8).
Joy Takes Tension
Maybe you’re like me and always wondering, Does it have to be this way? Can’t I just be joyful without going through tension? That would be nice wouldn’t it? Personally—and biblically—I don’t think that’s how God intended things to be after the fall. Let’s consider what Paul wrote in Ephesians:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.Ephesians 5:8 NIV
Everyone who comes to Christ has lived a life of sin. When we experience forgiveness from God and understand the beauty of the gospel, our lives are changed. However, in order to fully experience his unfailing love, we had to experience the separation.
Jesus said, “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 will have trouble; we will have tension; and we will have to experience the brokenness of this world for God to reveal all that he has for us. However, the joy that God gives us is so much better than the happy mirage the world offers.
You will make known to me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever.Psalm 16:11 NIV
Joyful in Suffering
I love reading the letters Paul wrote to the New Testament church, but I especially love his reflection of his joy in Christ. I am very thankful we, in America, don’t have to experience the type of suffering Paul did. However, it creates an amazing example of what joy can and should look like.
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.Philippians 1:18-21 NIV
For Paul, joy was not a question. Whether life or death, he would rejoice knowing that Christ would be exalted!
When it comes to joy, perspective is EVERYTHING! I like to call it the “kingdom perspective.” There is so much more going on behind the scenes of the kingdom than we could possibly know. God has so much in store for us, his kingdom, and this world; but we have to trust him. We have to stop letting our eyes glaze over with worldly terms like happiness or fairness. God loves you so much and the enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy God’s plan for you.
What if the next time you were in a season of suffering, you allowed yourself to see the kingdom perspective? What if you rejoiced in the plans God had for you through that season?
I know the change of perspective (especially when you’re in the middle of it) can be difficult. Being joyful in suffering sounds so contradictory and impossible. However, I have learned from my own experience that nothing is impossible for God. When tension arises, we need the Holy Spirit to intervene! Allow the Holy Spirit to transform the areas of unbelief and lack of joy. Allow him to exchange it for hope, peace, and obedience.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5 NIV
Conclusion and Reflection
I hope you found some encouragement as you read this. Joy can be stolen so easily by the enemy. But he doesn’t get to win, nor does he have the final say. If you have any burden on your heart today, lay it at the feet of Jesus. He’s waiting to receive it, take it, and carry it for you. If you need to weep, let it out. I know it can be uncomfortable to let out our tears sometimes, but God wants to exchange those tears for the fullness of his joy.
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.Psalm 126:5-6 NIV
- Journal and reflect on some areas in your life you aren’t experiencing joy in.
- What do you think is holding you back from experiencing the fullness of his joy?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to heal those areas and take some time to rest in the presence of God.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Brittani is a wife, mama, and online media coordinator at Northshore Christian Church. She recently became an author of the book, Finding Joy in Loneliness. Brittani has never considered herself a writer, but she finds that the Lord continues to use her to write pieces of hope for others. You can find her on Instagram at @brittanialexandra spending her days talking about Jesus and encouraging others in motherhood.