There have been times in my life when I had both stress and joy and times when I had all stress and no joy, but really no times at all when there wasn’t any stress.
Life is like that, right? There’s always something to be concerned about, something weighing on our shoulders, even though Paul wrote that we should worry about nothing and pray about everything.
Looking back, the times when I had no joy are very clear and well-defined:
- When my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and up through (and beyond, if I’m being honest) her death nine months later
- When the company I loved closed, causing me to be laid off from a job that I loved
- When I was on pregnancy bed rest and had to lie down 23 hours a day for more than 8 weeks
- When I had postpartum depression
- When my work from home position was rescinded and I had to go into the office 5 days a week for 8 hours a day for 6 months before I found a new work from home job
If I really thought about it, I could probably come up with more, but those are the big ones over the last 12 or so years.
Why is the bad stuff so much easier to remember?
Why do we grab on to the negative thoughts that the enemy whispers in our ears and leave the positive ones to float by?
I think this is because the enemy whispers cunning things into our hearts like, you’re not good enough and you aren’t worthy and no one likes you. Do you fall prey to those thoughts? I know I do, all the time.
So how do we overcome this predilection for noticing all things wrong with ourselves and the world?
We study God’s Word in which he tells us that we are lovely and beautiful and beloved. We look for things that spark joy in our lives and we practice gratitude.
These are the actions of the joyful, and if you practice and practice and practice some more, you can be joyful too.
Here are some verses to ruminate and meditate on, especially when you’re feeling negative or weak or unworthy.
Your name is written on the rolls in heaven, and you can reach out to your sweet friend Jesus anytime. He’s just a breath away.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. –James 1:2-4 NIV
James doesn’t say if trials come your way; he says when. You can expect them in this broken world, but know that you can profit from these trials if you allow God to work out His plan in your life.
The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. –Psalm 118:24 NIV
I love this one so much because of the song we often sing in church. This is the day. He made this day, and He made us in it, and hopefully, we can all find joy in that.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13 NIV
Because you trust in Him. That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s about trusting in Him no matter what happens and knowing that trials are part of His plan and will all work out in the end.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. –Psalm 16:9-11 NIV
Won’t it be wonderful, amazing, superlative when we are living with Jesus in heaven forever? I think about that and wonder what it will be like. I don’t think any human words can even come close to capturing the feelings of elation and awe, and that simple fact of not knowing brings me almost more joy than I can imagine.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –Psalm 30:11-12 NIV
In my time of mourning, I wished it to end but it didn’t, not for a long long time. Years. But eventually, in God’s timing and when I was finally ready to let go, it did end. When we can find our way back to Him and trust in Him and sing praises to Him, that’s when the mourning will turn to joyful dancing.
Maybe you’re not there yet. It’s okay. Rest in knowing that He is sovereign and all-knowing and patient, so be patient with yourself too.
If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy,
I would have died in my misery.
I will never forget your commandments,
for by them you give me life.
I am yours; rescue me!
For I have worked hard at obeying your commandments. –Psalm 119:92-94 NLT
Listen to me: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIE IN MISERY. Even more important, you don’t have to LIVE in misery either.
I feel like it’s time for some tough love here, some tough love that I needed all those years ago.
There is a time for misery and grieving, absolutely. But there is also a time to move on. If a reasonable time has passed, and you can’t move on out of your misery and despair, please find a grief counselor or a Christian therapist and make weekly appointments and talk through it until you feel better.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them. –Psalm 126:5-6 NIV
Our God is able to bring good from any bad situation. Look at Job, who lost everything including wealth and family, and eventually was restored to more than before. Look at Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery and whose owner sent him to prison and who eventually saved the entire nation of Israel from starvation in the desert. Look at Rahab, who was a lowly prostitute and became an ancestor of The Messiah. He can and will bring you joy.
And so, my children, listen to me,
for all who follow my ways are joyful.
Listen to my instruction and be wise.
Don’t ignore it.
Joyful are those who listen to me,
watching for me daily at my gates,
waiting for me outside my home!
For whoever finds me finds life
and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 8:32-35 NLT
Joyful are those who listen to the Lord. Right? We find joy in one on one communication with Him, so if you are struggling with joy right now, perhaps what you need is a time or prayer and meditation. Take the time to talk to Him and then listen patiently in quiet contemplation.
I once spent five minutes every night praying a prayer that went something like this:
“Lord, I want to hear from you. I am going to wait in silence until I hear your voice.”
And then I would sit and meditate, which to me meant that I did my best to clear my mind and, when I had a thought that intruded on my quiet waiting, I watched it float by like a cloud and didn’t dwell on it. It took weeks and weeks, but I eventually did hear from Him, and not during that time of meditation but as an astounding revelation when I was busy doing something else.
My point in sharing this is that I had great joy once I heard from Him. I prayed and waited and found joy both in the waiting and in the answer.
Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety. –Psalm 4:6-8 NIV
In this passage, David contrasts the two kinds of joy, the inward joy that comes from knowing and trusting God and the outward happiness that comes from life’s positive circumstances. Both are good and healthy, but the inward joy is lasting and steady whereas the outward happiness is transient and temporary.
Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord. –Psalm 27:6 NIV
In this section of Psalm 27, David writes that his one request is to live in the house of the Lord forever. The tent he mentions is the temple of the Lord, where he shouts with joy. We can shout with joy too.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. –1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV
Peter is talking here about the joy of knowing and loving Jesus, even though we have never seen Him and won’t until we meet face to face in heaven.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy are in his dwelling place. –1 Chronicles 16:26-27 NIV
The place of the Lord holds joy. When you are with the Lord, you can be joyful. I take this to mean, I can be joyful in prayer and really, all the time. I can be joyful in knowing the Lord and being the temple of the Holy Spirit because I am His Holy Place.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. –John 16:24 NIV
This verse is about the new relationship that people could enjoy with God after Jesus came. Before Jesus, people could only speak to God through a priest or rabbi. There was no direct connection, no Holy Spirit to intercede for us. After the resurrection, any believer could reach out on a direct line to the Father, and that personal connection with the Creator of the universe should be a source of joy.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12 NIV
In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells the truth about Jesus and gives many admonitions about what it means to live as a Christian. This is but one of those, and he says to be “joyful in hope.”
What does it mean to be joyful in hope? I think it means to have trust and faith in God that everything will turn out okay in the end.
My pastor said to me, as my mom was dying from pancreatic cancer, “Tara, God will heal her. He may heal her body on earth, but if not, He will heal her soul in heaven.” Those words struck me like a hammer. I was astounded because I’d never thought of it that way. I knew she would not be healed on earth. I just knew it, in my soul. I’d like to say I had peace with it, but I didn’t. I did, however, accept it as truth. I knew she wouldn’t get better, and I had no joy.
I wish I could go back in time and say to myself, “Look, you can waste your life in sorrow and misery, or you can rest in God’s hope and joy. It’s your choice. God will heal her in heaven, and she will be truly and deeply happy, maybe for the first time in her life. You can trust Him.” I don’t know if it would have mattered, but I’d like to try.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” –Nehemiah 8:10 NIV
Nehemiah, an Old Testament prophet, wanted to encourage the residents of Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and to restore themselves back to a Godly people. He didn’t want them to mourn over their old ways; he wanted them to be joyful in their knowledge of God’s love for them. God wants the same thing for you even today.
I hope I haven’t painted an overly rosy picture here; that wasn’t my intent.
What I wanted to show was that God is the reason for joy in our lives. He is always there and always faithful in every circumstance, and we can trust Him for joy and peace in any situation. These verses filled me with hope even in my darkest days, hope that Jesus would stay with me and eventually restore my joy.
You can experience the same, I promise.