Count it all joy. This might be one of the most common, Christianized phrases of all time. We know that we are supposed to be joyful always. We have likely heard that joy is not just being happy. Yes, we are probably well aware of the responsibility of joy. But exactly how to do we get to joy when we are being overwhelmed with pain or suffering?
Like many others, I experience chronic pain. Some days it’s a little annoyance. Other days, pain overwhelms me. I am a mom of three young children, and I can tell you that parenting and pain are not a beautiful combination. I desperately want to be a godly mom to my kids, and I desperately want to be a fun mom that creates fond memories. Pain threatens these things, and I wonder, "How am I supposed to find joy in this?"
Be joyful no matter your circumstances. This gets tossed around a lot. Sometimes to those who are really struggling. I shudder to think that I may have casually exhorted someone in pain to rejoice in her circumstances . Don't get me wrong, such exhortation is true and right, but is not likely to be a help or comfort when thrown out as a passing comment. Our words of biblical exhortation should come as we as show deep, genuine care to those in pain. There are things that happen in life that are crazy, ridiculously hard.
When the apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord always" in Philippians 4:4, he was not being trite. He was leading them to Jesus.
If we are to find joy in the midst of the hardest of circumstances, it takes far more than the casual exhortation of an even well-meaning friend. It takes digging deep into faith, trusting the ultimate Source of joy.
Paul Knew Real Joy
Joy is obviously at the forefront of Paul’s mind as he writes his letter to the Philippians. This might seem ironic, given that Paul is writing from prison, possibly facing death. Surely Paul must have been tempted to despair. But Paul makes it clear that rather than despair, his response to his circumstances was joy (Philippians 3:17). And Paul wished the same for the Philippians. He exhorts them to rejoice no matter what their circumstances, just as he himself is doing (Philippians 3:18).
Why? How does it make sense for Paul to rejoice in the midst of suffering and trials? How can I practice joy on the days I am overwhelmed with pain? How can you rejoice in whatever is pressing down on you?
It starts with a right definition of joy. We often think of joy as a feeling, or a sense of euphoria, or putting on a happy face. If we are going through life with this understanding of joy, then if we don’t feel it, we better fake it. And seriously, that makes no sense in the midst of heartache or pain or struggle or depression or trials or prison. Fake a smile? No thanks.
But this is not the joy that Paul is experiencing. This is a joy found only in Christ. In truth, this kind of joy does not promise to relieve our pain and sorrow. We will continue to grieve or struggle, but we do so while experiencing joyful fellowship with our Savior.
How do we find this kind of genuine joy, even in the midst of the hardest things in life? Here are three practical ways to seek it out:
1. We rejoice in the faith of others.
Paul thanks God for the Philippians. He rejoices that they received the gospel and are living it out in obedience to the Lord. He rejoices in their partnership with him in ministry. He rejoices that the gospel is being spread. Paul takes great joy in seeing what God is doing in the lives of those he loves (Philippians 1:3-11).
What about us? Are we moved to joy by one another’s faith? There is great encouragement that comes through rejoicing with others in our community.
2. We practice joy.
We have opportunity for joy in every circumstance: in the mundane, the frustration, the exhaustion; in the happy or the hilarious; in the quiet or the loud, in the conflict or the peace. In everything, rejoice. The suffering will come, and we can be prepared through practice. No matter our circumstances, there is always reason to rejoice (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).
3. We know whose we are.
If I am in Christ, I am not who I once was. I have been bought with a price. Jesus Christ shed his blood for my sins. In our darkest moments, it is hard to remember most anything beyond our circumstances. But it is in these times that we most desperately need to remember that our identity is in Christ and that THIS IS JOY! I am saved from the chains of sin and death. I belong in the family of the King of Kings. I know the Savior. I will always have cause to rejoice
There is joy in the presence of the Lord. It is not the joy of putting on a happy face and pretending everything is ok. It is the joy that comes with leaning into him in the midst of our pain, depression, sorrow or suffering and knowing that he is in control. He is good, loving and faithful. He is gracious and merciful and holy and righteous and just. Whatever the circumstances, we belong to Him.
This is the kind of joy that Paul knew and wrote about. His joy was not dependent on his circumstances. It was grounded in His Savior. Ours can be also.
(Want to know more about our great source of Joy? Plan to attend the Verity Conference!)
Mary Liebert has a passion for leading people to Jesus through the study of God's Word. She has been involved in teaching, writing, training and facilitating Bible study at Hinson Church in Portland for ten years. She loves seeing women grow to love the Lord more deeply and follow him more closely through in-depth study of Scripture. Mary has been married to Jeff since 2005. She is mom to three young children, Zachary, Eli and Addie, who provide plenty of opportunity for her to teach God's Word and practice what she teaches. She has a B.A. in Bible and Theology from Multnomah University.