Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)
When bad news shows up on your doorstep, how do you typically respond? Do you complain to anyone who will listen? Do you try to explain away your difficulties and move on to the next headline? Enduring unpleasant circumstances is certainly no fun, but is it truly possible to simply grin and bear it? We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news at one time or another, and we know that trials and suffering are a part of the Christian’s life on this earth (John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12). So wouldn’t it be smart to have an emergency response plan in place for such occasions?
Let’s consider three possible options for how to react to bad news.
Emergency Response Plan A
The knee-jerk response to bad news and suffering is often to blame God, get angry with the world, and choose to wallow in your pain. Basically, have a really big pity party. This may seem like the natural thing to do, but as a Christian, you aren’t meant to live according to your sinful nature anymore. If you make it a habit to respond to bad news this way, your pain will soon turn into a root of bitterness. And that’s not good either for you or the people around you. So although this may seem like the easy route to take, it is not the healthy choice.
Emergency Response Plan B
A second option is to lie down, throw in the towel, and just give up. This sounds quieter and not as volatile as Plan A, but does it really take you to a better place? Choosing this path will most likely lead to a life of despair and hopelessness. You may not be able to control every aspect of your present dilemma, but you can choose your attitude and actions. Be patient, be still, and wait on God (Psalm 46:10). Of course, this doesn’t mean you must sit on your hands and do nothing; God accomplishes His will by way of His people, and this new trial might be the catalyst God uses to bring about good for yourself or others (Isaiah 46:9-11; Romans 8:28). So be wary of giving up. It takes courage to get up off the mat and go another round, but be brave and know that God has your back.
Emergency Response Plan C
Of course, you could decide to be joyful in the trial, secure in the knowledge that God is in control. This sounds easy when you aren’t in the middle of walking through a long, hard valley, and you may have decided already that next time troubles arise you’re going to keep a joyful attitude like the one you’ve read about in the book of James. But do you really believe that God is in control, that He will use this testing of your faith to produce perseverance, maturity, and perfection in you?
Plan C isn’t easy. It doesn’t feel natural. But it is clearly the best choice.
Before acquiring Apologia, I found myself unemployed for an extended period of time. It was one of the toughest trials I’ve ever faced, and I was forced to deal with some harsh facts every week. Yet God provided what my family needed, sending just enough manna for today, and I had to trust that He would send more tomorrow. The experience was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I was often tempted to respond in negative ways (see options A and B), but God kept reminding me that He was my strength, or more specifically, the joy of the Lord was my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
In other words, the more I was joyful in that trial, the more He strengthened me, which served to increase my joy. It was a positive, life-giving stairway leading upward, not one of those emotional death traps that can send one spiraling downward and out of control. Like His peace that passes understanding, this was a joy that didn’t make earthly sense. Yet my joy wasn’t irrational—it was a more sane and lucid response than I would have on my own. By God’s grace, He helped me to look at my trial through heaven’s eyes, stand and face my giant, and then calmly—and joyfully—grin and bear it.
Heavenly Father, as hard as it is to say, I sincerely thank you for the trial I am currently facing. I say this in a sane moment, knowing that I am weak and prone to anger and frustration with my circumstances. I confess that I want to blame others and be angry with You, even though I know full well that You are a loving and sovereign God. Forgive me for my faithless response. Guide me in the paths of righteousness and give me the strength to face this giant with courage and joy. Then do your work in and through me for your glory.
Walking by faith and enjoying the homeschooling adventure of a lifetime!
© 2017 Davis Carman
How often have we heard the verse about being joyful always? (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In the midst of trial, its easy to wonder how joy can possibly exist amidst pain and heartbreak.
I cannot honestly say that I’ve felt joy constantly throughout the last three years since becoming a single Mom. In fact, in those first hardest weeks, joyful was the last word I would have used to describe myself.
As I’ve walked through a season that felt like the end of any good in my life I found true joy, even before there was any happiness in my heart.
Psalm 30:8… Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
While there may be no feeling of happiness in my life, there can still be joy. There will be joy! Joy is not a feeling at all, rather it is the firm knowledge that God is sovereign. He can see beyond what my human mind can fathom or understand. Resting in that knowledge is true joy.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet rials 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.
The feeling of joy may falter, but true godly joy is simply trusting that God’s got this even if it currently doesn’t feel that way. On the other side of that trial that once felt insurmountable you’ll find that God did indeed have a plan for the hard things.
It had been a very hard week. It seemed like the days just kept getting harder and harder. I was emotionally drained and exhausted. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through one more setback, one more decision, or one more day. I wasn’t even time for lunch yet.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, James 1:2 ESV
I was having a hard time counting it all joy in that moment. I was definitely meeting trials of various kinds: financial struggles, health issues, my kids, my own attitude, and my extended family. How in the world could I find joy in all the pain and heartache that I was going through.
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:3 ESV
One thing that I have learned about hard times is that God will use these opportunities to see if we really believe what we say we believe. He wants to see if we will continue to stand firm on His promises when things look hopeless or if we will give into fear and doubt.
I’ve learned that faith is a muscle. The more I use it the stronger that it gets. When I consistently believe in God for the small things He often blows my mind by coming through in ways that I never imagined. When I was struggling financially and my work continued to get less and less I thought for sure God has lost His mind.
Here I was, praying for a financial miracle, working as hard as I could to provide and be a good steward of the limited resources that I had and it seemed like I was being punished for my good works. Lord I need more money why is my client load dropping?
I didn’t know it at the time but God was setting me up for a divine intervention. Over the course of a few days different people blessed my family with enough money to carry us through for a while. And when that provision ran out God did it again and again. And one day I realized that I was no longer worried over my finances.
And if God was going to take care of my finances then surely He would take care of the rest as well.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:4ESV
Those were some hard days and a hard lesson. But in the end I was able to stand firm and say with certainty that my God is a provider! That is something that no one can ever make me doubt or question no matter how hard things my be. And this is why we can count it all joy.
When we make it to the end of the trial we will know God on a much deeper level then we did before and we will have more peace and joy than we know what to do with.
Exhausted. Forsaken. Lacking.
Barren. Depleted. Void.
Dry. Unfilled. Empty.
Do any of those describe how you are feeling? Has your bucket of joy, peace, and faith been drained and now you’re looking for an answer, a refill?
You say to yourself, “What’s missing?”
So, you begin to search for that elusive “something” to fill up your bucket. You decide to go on vacation in search of “it.” Maybe “it” is in the soothing sands of the beach, with the ocean’s gentle waves lapping at the shore. But the remedy doesn’t work. When you return home, all the vacation drains out of your bucket. You’re still empty. “It” was not in the vacation.
Next, you buy a new car, thinking “it” will pump up your ego. But that does not fill your void. Your bucket is still empty. “It” was not in the car.
You purchase a new house to inflate your pride, but the house just cost you more money and didn’t fill your bucket. “It” was not in the house.
Then, you go after a higher paying job because you need more money. You think the power of your new job will appease your empty bucket. But now, you work late every night to pay off the car and the house you couldn’t afford, which only causes more problems in your marriage. Your bucket remains empty. Work was not “it.”
So, you begin to bar hop. All the drinks do not contain “it” until you meet a lovely young thing or a handsome young hunk. That pumps you up libido, for a while. But all the air escapes from your balloon one night when you come home from your tryst and find that all your family has moved out.
Then, the words of the old song hit you in the face, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” And your bucket seems even emptier. An affair was not “it.”
So, you find yourself upon your bed, in tears, wondering where it all began, where you went wrong. Reaching back into your memory box, you pull out the memory of you on your knees beside your bed, saying your prayers.
You slide off the bed and onto the floor, with knees popping and creaking from years of not bending. You bow your head and begin to sob as you seek the One True Answer…Jesus. The One you have so long ignored. The One you have been searching for and didn’t even know it. The One Who loves you more than anything, enough to die for you.
You pour out your heart to Him. He comes and kneels beside you, wrapping His loving arm around your heaving shoulders and whispers in your ear…
“What you needed was not to be found in your vacation, nor in your new car or new house, or all the other things you used as a substitute, for what you needed was My Love.
“I’ve been here all along, kneeling by your bedside, night after night, waiting for you to kneel and find Me once again. Now, you’ve recognized your need.
“Let’s get rid of all that stands in the way between us, separating us from that special companionship you so desperately need and I so desire to have with you. You have found your Answer. “It” is Me, the Lover of your soul. I am your dwelling place. Never leave My side again.”
Whatever you have been through or are going through right now, I pray that your bucket be filled and runneth over with faith, hope, joy, and love in Jesus.
It was an ordinary Monday morning after a soccer tournament. I had not felt that well over the weekend. But, I didn’t want to dampen the fun we had as a family. I wanted to embrace the joy of my youngest experiencing another great win at a tournament.
That day began as usual: up at 5:00, the oldest dressed and left with Dad. After they left, I lingered over my coffee and quiet time. I said a prayer that the pain in my body would not continue to increase and then I began my day.
Over the course of 2 hours, I began to realize that it wasn’t going to be like other days. It was going to be like the day I experienced last year. That day, I learned about praise… but today, I would learn that pain brings joy.
It began in a subtle manner – the pain growing slowly and then fading. I thought it would pass. But, when my legs gave out and I was unable to stand, walk or sit down, I knew God had something other than ‘normal’ planned for the day.
So I lay on my bed in tears, wondering if this was my new normal. My husband came home, called my doctor and within 24 hours, I was in an operating room.
When I woke up the next morning, I was in the least amount of pain I had been in – in over a year.
I was also experiencing more joy than I had in a very long time.
It was then that I knew God was answering my prayer. But, it wasn’t a prayer just about pain, it was about our family and the trials we have been experiencing.
So, even though only ONE of my many prayers had been answered, I knew, God was at work and one by one, he was going to be answering my prayers.
My prayers, based on my faith that had grown as small as a mustard seed….and one by one, I knew God was going to be moving mountains.
Those mountains loomed large and had caused a darkness to cover my eyes.
But, when I saw the bright lights in that operating room, I began a new journey.
Inexpressible Joy in Pain… beyond comprehension.
Throughout the book of Philippians, Paul talks about joy while he is in jail. He gives us amazing insight about experiencing joy through contentment in the worst circumstances we can imagine.
I had never considered how to have joy in jail until I began experiencing pain that threatened to take my life. Through that pain, God has opened my heart to enjoying every moment – no matter how hard or how beautiful: each minute is a gift.
Even pain is a gift because if we focus on God and giving him glory – Even PAIN can bring joy.
Bucket of JOY!
There comes a time in each of our lives where we are in the “valley of death,” so to speak – those times when a situation or a certain someone tries to steal our joy. In the interest of honesty, we should take a moment of personal inventory to determine if God is disciplining us, or if you are in fact surrounded by “bucket dippers.” Allow me to explain.
Recently in the midst of teaching our daughter the natural consequences of her actions, she retorted that her dad was being a “bucket dipper!” A bit confused, my husband asked for clarification. Per our child, that is likened to someone taking a bucket, dipping it into ice water and dumping it over your head; thereby stealing one’s joy. Let’s just say my daughter would not be a good candidate for the “bucket challenge.” She made it abundantly clear that she does not like “bucket dippers.” I later learned that she coined the term at a friend’s house while her friend was being a “bucket dipper.”
This had me thinking because, truth be told, I don’t like “bucket dippers” either. However, in this case she had to deal with that “bucket” because it was a natural consequence of her actions. We must learn how to discern between “bucket dippers,” and the times when we need to wear our bucket with joy. Which begs the question, how exactly do we find JOY when we are carrying our bucket, so to speak?
The Christian walk is a journey, and like any journey there are highs and lows; and while we say God is good all the time, how do we respond when we are in the valley? Moreover, how do we find our JOY in the valleys of this life? I’ve been in the valley more times than I care to speak. Some of those valleys were filled with treacherous terrain, while others offered merely a bumpy ride.
I recall when my mother passed away and how I felt deserted and desperately seeking joy in all things, as the Scriptures command. I sheepishly questioned my Savior. I was very aware of how easy it was to allow bitterness to take root. Theoretically, I knew I had no right to be angry, but I was in a very desolate place. I felt abandoned by God. During this time in the desert a friend recommended I read the Psalms. As she put it, they are good for times of distress and so I took heed and began my walk through the Psalms and then (cue epic music) I stumbled on this verse:
“For I find my delight in Your commandments which I love. I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes.” ~ Psalm 119:47-48
Moving right along to vs. 71-72, “…it is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
And finally, the verse we all know, Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
There’s so much to unpack in this Psalm, but one thing is for sure, David was in distress and all he could think of was God’s law, and that brought him JOY! I had an “awakening,” if you will. When I stopped to think, all David had was the Pentateuch – as in Leviticus, Numbers…you know, the books we tend to skim through. For a moment, I thought David must have fallen on his head and had a concussion as he wrote this Psalm where He repeatedly talked about God’s statutes.
It’s no wonder David was a man after God’s own heart! That’s when it hit me square between the eyes, in the midst of the desert place, I cried out, “Show me how to find unspeakable JOY in your Word!” I want to be a woman after God’s own heart. I want to be a woman that can find joy in times of distress, because I know that His law is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Full disclosure: a video of a polar bear at Maruyama Zoo in Japan that is going viral was the inspiration for this post. It made me want to be a polar bear. While in captivity, this little polar bear is finding joy and bringing joy to others. She put a smile on my face on a day I needed it.
There’s a difference between the “bucket dippers” that Job had to contend with (mind you, God disciplined them), and the seasons in our lives where we are in the valley and wearing our bucket. Whether you are surrounded by bucket dippers or wearing your bucket, don’t lose your JOY. Don’t let anyone steal your joy and don’t miss out on what God is trying to show you as He seeks to draw you near to Him.
Do you ever look at the mountain in front of you and say… “It’s too much, Lord! I can’t do this! This is just too hard!”
What do we do with these mountains that are too big for us to climb? How do we find strength to take that first step? Are we able to find joy in the mountain?
I believe God gives us too much for a reason.
Someone at church recently put it in such simple words, I just have to share what he said. He said, “Yes, God gives us things that are too hard for us. But nothing is too hard for HIM!”
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10
And that is the key, my friends.
God gives us too much for us to handle on our own strength… so that HE can come and do what we don’t have strength to do.
He wants the credit for our miracles. He wants us to lean on Him; he wants to be our hero! He wants us to realize that we have a great need for him. He wants us to realize that HE IS OUR STRENGTH! It is not anything we do on our own. It is HIM!
He wants us to look back and realize that it was He that carried us.
I had this very experience last year. God gave me too much for me to handle. He called me to do some pretty crazy things, all in about a six-month time span. Most of them came with just a few days notice. A website in three days, a book in ten days, a women’s conference in eight days. . .
I had nothing to do but to lean on Him. I had nothing to do but to let Him carry me.
And now… I look back, knowing it was impossible to do on my own. Impossible for any homeschool mom anywhere to accomplish in such a short time.
I look back knowing that it was HIM; it was all done with His strength. It was nothing of my own.
Friend, God gives us too much for us to bear so that He can remind us that our strength is found in Him!
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. James 1:2-7
He’s got this!
As we look to future mountains we have to climb, we can have joy knowing He has been faithful in the past.
As we take that first step, we can have joy knowing He will surely carry us when the climb gets to be too much.
And as we come back down the other side of a big trial test or mountains… We can look back and remember ….
He is able, for He is our strength!
Joy is knowing that Jesus is your strength.
It was 3:00 am. The full moon shone out the window in a room smelling of lavender essential oil masking disinfectant and plastic sheets. I lay in the hospital chair-bed, gazing on the face of my sweet, sleeping nine-year old son connected to a beeping heart monitor and IV while we waited a seeming eternity for an emergency appendectomy. My mind began to swirl amidst the reality of what was happening. In between prayers and a few minutes of moonlit sleep, my mind battled two sets of words: the doctor with the poor bedside manner barking at my sweet boy, Luke Ezra, “you might die!” and the Word of God through James “Consider it all joy…”
It started as any other Tuesday morning when daddy was on the road: a whirlwind to get out the door. If we were on time, we’d only be 15-minutes-late for our homeschool PE co-op. After 9-year-old drop-off, I’ll take off my older son to go fishing with a buddy and then head to my Starbucks office for a quad half-caff iced espresso, two raw sugars, melted, in a venti cup of ice.
Feed and let out the dogs. Help get the Captain America socks on so there are no bumps in the toes. “Did you brush your teeth? Do you have your water? It’s hot out there. Did you remember your snack packs? Please put on your sunglasses and sunscreen. Did you pack all your fishing gear? Are the dogs back in their crates?” Yogurt smoothies grabbed from the fridge to drink on the car ride. Throw my laptop and protein bar in my backpack to make sure I get my writing deadlines accomplished in the two hours I’ll have in between drop-offs. We’ll have our morning prayers, a FaceTime call with dad and maybe a bit of conversation on the way, if there aren’t invisible Pokemon floating outside the minivan window in cyber space to be collected on the app. Deep breaths.
Consider it all joy, my sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. This morning, every Tuesday morning in fact, is a trial. The joy of the Lord is my strength, I remember as I drive mom’s taxi along our thirty minute drive, past the state park and the lighthouse with worship music playing in the background.
Two short hours later, one deadline checked off the list and a bit more caffeinated, we headed for Taco Tuesday and back home to the reverse routine, “put away your snack packs and fishing gear. Let the dogs out. I’ve got one more deadline, boys!”
Later that evening, Luke has a stomach ache. He said he’d fallen at co-op and twisted a muscle. At one point he really cried out in pain and he did throw up, but nothing really out of the ordinary when a kid gets a stomach bug. Warm bath and off to bed, he was feeling better.
The next morning, he still felt a little off but we rested. No vomiting, fever, or unusual signs. Thursday, we went about our morning errands. I said if he didn’t feel better after lunch we would go to the doctor. I knew something was off when he wouldn’t eat his Chick-Fil-A. Am I right? When your kid won’t eat his nuggets, mom, something is definitely wrong. We went to our regular doctor and he recommended we go to the nearest hospital for a cat scan.
Two horrific IV experiences and a gallon of internal dye consumed, I donned my lead vest and stayed with my son as the machine whirred around his belly. It was confirmed- acute appendicitis. That’s when the doctor told my son to “shut up kid, you might die!” and my prayer chain began. The joy of the Lord is my strength.
We transferred to the children’s hospital by ambulance, remembering to keep our joy along the way. “Look, honey. The nurse loves Jesus, too.” I pointed out the cross pendant on our ambulance attendant who assured me I’d “done everything right.” Luke giggled past his IV when the driver blared the lights and sirens.
During one of the longest nights of my life, I remembered over and over in my mind: Consider it all joy. By the grace of God, my husband made it to the hospital about the same time as our ambulance, and together with our son in between vital checks, nurses, IV beeps, interns and doctors, we remembered good times. We made the hospital staff and our son laugh. We shared our faith. We asked for prayers and shared updates across text prayer chains, social media and phone calls. And we prayed, considering our time together joy.
Friends and strangers alike stood beside us, brought us meals, and prayed with us at the hospital. The Lord surely had answered this mama’s nightly prayer for her boys “Will you go before him, Jesus and pave the way. Holy Spirit, stand beside him as my boy’s best friend. Papa God, stand behind him, always having his back.” Our pediatric surgeon and appointed pediatrician, both amazing women, let us know it was miraculous we caught this in time before his appendix ruptured, as it was “retrocecal.” Hidden. This serious and even life-threatening condition could have been easily missed. Consider it all joy.
Luke continued to recuperate in the hospital for 36 hours while we made the hospital staff smile and certainly recognize our faith. We played WiiU, napped, drank tons of gatorade and apple juice and colored some Psalms with our favorite markers. The staff said they were going to miss us. We’re making them thank you cards this week in homeschool.
There is no doubt in my mind that our daily practice remembering the joy of the Lord, considering it all joy, became our strength when we needed it most. We relaxed last week. Had spring break. Played with friends. I let social media slip and didn’t fret about it. In fact, it took me a few days to recuperate myself. And, I’ve considered it all joy. The rest of that verse reminds us “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Friends, this mama is grateful- so,so grateful. The trials of my Tuesday morning routine seem so trivial compared to the trials of the nights that followed. Yet, they were all trials and opportunities to practice joy. I’m committed to persevere through whatever comes my way, and continue to live by the motto “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I pray you do the same.
As I prayed about and contemplated the word JOY for this month’s devotional, I spent some quality time in the Bible and a few minutes on Google. Did you know there are 19.5 million articles about how and why joy is better than happiness?! Good grief! Just so you know, I’ve decided NOT to add to that total. You’re welcome! 😁
While I was clicking around, I came across a number of images and memes promoting the popular motto: “Choose Joy!” Upon reflection, I wondered if it were literally possible for a person to CHOOSE joy. Rather than ponder this by myself, I chose to pose the question to my Facebook friends—a fantastic cross-section of folks from across the U.S. (and the world)—to see what they had to say. Here’s what I posted:
Do you think it’s possible to CHOOSE joy? Let’s define joy as “an internal sense of happiness that can co-exist alongside grief and frustration, but be snuffed out by worry and anxiety.”
As you might imagine, the answers varied, but not very widely: The overwhelming majority of my Christian and Agnostic friends agreed that it’s possible to choose joy, although a few dissented. A Buddhist friend suggested that while choosing joy is attainable, it’s not easy and requires “not just self-discipline, but a willingness to forgo unhealthy attachment to things as they are.” The response that really got my attention, though, was from a good friend in Washington state. He commented, “I think I choose optimism and attitude, but ‘joy’ is something I receive.” And just like that, my perspective on joy shifted.
I realized that I had been approaching this subject all wrong—as if joy had only one meaning. What I needed to do was research JOY more thoroughly in order to understand its nuances. Because if joy can be received, then it can also be given. If it can be given and received, then it can also be rejected and disregarded. What IS joy? Where does it come from? Can I generate it by myself, or do I need to find it somewhere else? Or both? Or neither? (Yes, this is how my brain works.) 😉
So, I began my “formal” research. And guess what I learned? JOY, one word in English, is expressed with a variety of words in other languages—especially in the Bible! I was surprised to find at least ten different root words for joy in the Old Testament (Hebrew) and five different word groups in the New Testament (Greek). Since we English speakers tend to use only one word for joy, it’s simple to suppose why joy is so frequently conflated with cheerfulness, contentment, pride, bliss, hope, and happiness.
Noted psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik developed a “Wheel of Emotions” to visually describe the relationships of emotions to each other—like an artist’s color wheel. He first identified eight “primary” emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, disgust, surprise, and anticipation. He went on to teach that basic emotions could be expressed at a variety of intensities (like shades of a color) and could combine to create even more! Plutchik identified 8 distinct second-level and 25 third-level emotions for a grand total of 33 distinct emotions that comprise JOY. No wonder we struggle to understand it.
In order to better apprehend joy, imagine a backwards prism. There’s a full spectrum of second-level emotions shining into the prism (not to mention those in the third-level behind it), but only one emotion beams out the other side: JOY. That tiny word is pretty complex!
Joy is neither pre-meditated, nor can it’s time of arrival be controlled. When joy arrives on the scene, “it takes possession of the whole person”1—body, mind, and spirit. This is why “tears of joy” is not an oxymoron: It’s perfectly natural for a person to well-up with tears (i.e., have a visceral reaction) in the midst of a joyous occurrence. 😂 😂 😂
So, does everyone experience joy? Yes, but in not the same way and not necessarily the same kind. There are three main types of joy we see in Scripture: Public Joy, Personal Joy, and Pure Joy.
“You are to hold a seven-day festival for the Lord your God…and you will have abundant joy.” Deuteronomy 16:15
PUBLIC JOY is a shared experience with others and fades more quickly than the other two types. For example, you might experience public joy at a Panthers 🏈 game—assuming they are your favorite team, and they win. Or maybe you’re at a regional conference with some friends, and one of them 🙋 makes a life-changing decision. Or maybe you are cheering at the TV when your favorite team seals their spot in the Final Four 🏀 during March Madness. Even though you’re not necessarily in a crowd at the moment, you are enjoying it with people from all over the world. Biblical examples of public joy are seen during annual feasts, communal festivals, and celebrations (cf. Num. 10:10; Deut. 16:15). At times—even today—it may be felt in the course of corporate worship (cf. Ezra 3:13). Unfortunately, public joy is temporary—it rises and falls with the live experience. At certain times it will last longer than others, but eventually, public joy fades away.
“For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me!” Luke 1:44
PERSONAL JOY is experienced within oneself, but it is not received or felt until something happens. The “something” might be an anticipated milestone (e.g., the arrival of a letter from a publisher accepting your book proposal; the birth of a child; your husband’s promotion at work; etc.), or it could be a complete surprise (e.g., a soldier surprises her family by coming home unannounced). At that moment—when IT happens—you experience a spontaneous visceral reaction as personal joy “wells up” within you—“tears of joy” may be involved. Or not. How you experience personal joy has as much to do with your character and values as it does your personality type. When something happens in alignment with your values and hopes, the strong emotional response you have is more than relief, happiness, or even peace: It’s a deep sense of joy that lingers (cf. Luke 1:39-44; 2 Tim. 1:4). Personal joy takes up most of the spectrum. Individuals will find joy in a variety of things or find themselves receiving joy in unexpected moments. Interestingly, however, what brings one person joy, could just as easily trigger sadness in another. Personal joy is, well, personal.
“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b
PURE JOY is experienced at the metaphysical level (spiritually). It exists separate from the individual, and might seem elusive, if you don’t know where to find it. Thankfully, Scripture teaches us where to look and how to acquire it (cf. Ps. 16:11; ). Pure joy is the spiritual fruit of a personal relationship with the Lord—rooted in His Word (Ps. 119:105) and cultivated by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). It’s this relationship that produces in us the ability to face severe circumstances with a sense of deep and abiding joy. Pure joy holds us in place like an anchor in the storm. No longer do we rely on public joy or personal joy to carry us through the tough times: That’s dangerous and way too subjective (Neh. 8:10). Instead, we cling to the promises in His Word (cf. Isa. 40:31; Mal. 3:10; John 8:36; Jas. 1:5), trusting that our Heavenly Father will work everything out according to His plans and for His glory (cf. Ps. 139; Isa. 46:9-10; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 8:28; 1 John 4:13). This yields a peace that passes understanding, and pure joy has a place to take root and grow.
Public Joy, Personal Joy, Pure Joy—each of these was created for our benefit, and they are not mutually exclusive. We can experience them one at a time, or all at once! But if your goal, like mine, is to approach life from a place of pure joy (the joy of the LORD), we must discipline ourselves to tend the garden of our hearts. 🌱💗🌱 We must consistently lop off self-reliance (Rev. 3:15-20), fear (1 John 4:18), and anxiety (1 Peter 5:7); and instead, feed on the Word (2 Tim. 2:15 & 3:16-17); assure proper exposure to the Son (cf. Rom. 10:9-10; Jas. 4:7-8); allow pruning to stimulate growth (John 15:2); and enjoy unlimited access to living water (cf. John 7:37-39; Rom. 5:4-6; Rev. 22:17). Tend the garden, and pure joy will bloom in a full spectrum of color so beautiful that others will want to know how you did it. Then, you share your little secret: It’s all about Him! 🙌 ☝️ ️✝️
“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
It’s the middle of March, and I am pretty sure those of you in the northern parts of the world are really looking forward to spring. I live in Florida, so I am actually LOVING this time of year, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s and very little humidity. Don’t get jealous…we southerners are bracing ourselves for the upcoming season of huddling inside during the extreme summer months, hiding in indoor air conditioning so we don’t blister and burn!
Yet in the “official” winter months, we do have trees that lose their leaves and plants that slow their growth, just like the rest of the North. Things turn brown and even look dead.
This is called dormancy. However, though plants look dead on the outside, there is much going on in the inside. That’s because times of dormancy are when internal growth is happening. The brown grass and barren trees are working inside to prepare for warmer spring weather. At just the right time, there will be a green and multicolor explosion of sprouts, buds, and glorious blooms!
Well, that poetic picture also can describe how we can go through spiritually dormant seasons. Those “winters” in our lives can make us feel like God is being silent. We feel stagnant and can’t see any progress. Life feels dark, cloudy, and cold. In fact, from the outside, we might even feel that we appear spiritually dead.
I have been there. Particularly during the repetition of training and educating my children. It seems never-ending with continual laundry (Will I EVER see the bottom of those hampers?), repetitive meal prep, and perpetual diaper changes. I cannot tell you how many times I had to teach the same math lesson over and over again to a little one who just wasn’t getting it. And don’t forget the discipline. Spoiler alert: My kids aren’t perfect.
I really didn’t feel like God was there in those dormant days. I was pretty sure there was no progress, whether it was in academics, character building, or even in my spiritual life. Morning quiet time? I had to laugh, or I would cry. There were many times when I questioned how I could do this wife/parent/Christian thing with joy.
Yet I eventually realized that it was during those very times that God was working in me. You see, He is always upholding us and desires to transform us to make us more like Him.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
God works in ways we don’t expect, but when we look at His Creation and how it works, it often gives us clues to His character. Just like dormant trees, we need lots of internal and spiritual changes to be prepared for what He has for us in the future. That’s because He has a plan for us, both in the immediate and even in the eternal.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
God focuses on building our inner character. So while I have served sick and dying parents, worked on building a marriage, and lived through financial challenges, sickness, and parenting — all of these required a level of spiritual strength that I didn’t initially have. I felt like I was walking through molasses…no progress, no joy. Just moving step by step, doing the next thing in front of me. Sometimes my heart felt empty. Dormant.
Can anyone else relate?
There was no joyful song in my heart, but I would just keep moving on, doing something because I knew I should do it. Kind of like when we tell our children to eat their veggies because it is good for their bodies. They might not feel the benefits right away, but it is a good habit and in the long run will be helpful.
So during my dormant times, I would read my Bible like it was spiritual broccoli. It really didn’t make me feel energized, but I knew it was good for me. It was there inside my heart, ready for upcoming challenges. And during difficult times, I had those verses to hang onto. They brought strength and even joy. They helped me walk through trials with a courage I didn’t know I had.
Well, God has great plans for you! So if you’re not seeing progress and feel spiritually dormant, continue to move forward on the inside. Fill your mind and heart with His word. Build yourself up during those dormant times as a preparation for the spring bloom God has planned for you.
During those times you are like a dormant tree, standing firm, even though it appears dead on the outside. It is churning on the inside, building up its proteins and holding its nutrients so that it is ready to blossom at just the right time.
This process involves being consistent. Day-by-day doing the things that are set before you: making breakfast, quizzing spelling words, mopping floors.
It may not look exciting and may even be boring. But remember, God wants you to be fulfilled in Him and have joy! And He is doing this by working to transform you into a beautiful creation.
So as you look outside at those barren tree branches, be encouraged that growth is happening inside. As God works in His world, He is working in you so that you can also blossom with joy!