Part of the Christian life is experiencing pain, suffering, and even tragedy. It can be hard to navigate these feelings, and even harder to make sense of why life seems to “unfair.”
Unfortunately, teachers who have left biblical doctrine and subscribed to false notions about the effect of the gospel have had a real impact on the way the gospel message is viewed and processed worldwide.
In this article, African Pastor Conrad Mbewe says, “Prosperity theology is like the Arabian camel that gave the impression it simply wanted a little space in the tent, but now the whole of it is inside and the true gospel is outside. This erroneous teaching is filling churches across the continent with people who have no desire for true biblical salvation or godliness. Sadly, it’s spreading like an uncontrollable bushfire.”
What a sad thought.
The reality is that Jesus provides healing and peace in the midst of our brokenness–He does not, nor does He always aim to, deliver us from it.
A Personal Story
We can all identify with this notion. When I was 12 years old, my father passed away. He had Leukemia, and was on the rebound, but succumbed to pneumonia while in the hospital due to his weakened immune system.
Worse still, I have no reason to believe that my dad was saved. He rejected Christ at every opportunity that I’m aware of. My trust and hope lie fully in the sovereignty of God.
Having been saved at a young age, I had been walking with the Holy Spirit in my life for eight years at this point, and even as a child, I cannot explain to you the peace I felt then, and even until today.
In contrast, I was having a conversation with an atheist who, at a young age, also had lost family members–two or three to be more specific. Intriguingly, this person had asked for a logical reason to believe Christianity, but would not respond intellectually–the responses I received were bathed in emotion.
This person was simply mad at God, so they chose not to believe in Him.
Humanity is broken. It is as simple as that. And, it is a tragic mistake to rely on Jesus to remove the brokenness in your life and in your spirit.
What Jesus can do, however, is provide hope and encouragement for your soul. He can take you to a new level of peace, and give you a new set of eyes through which to view your circumstances.
That said, you have a part to play.
The Bible is filled with scenarios of utter despair, and we can find in its pages some helpful truths to guide us through these moments when the circumstances of life make it seem as though joy is impossible.
When Joy Seems Impossible, Evaluate Your Season
As the Twelve Steppers say, “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” I cite the Twelve Steppers, but did you know that the Bible is the originator of this philosophy?
We find something interesting in the life of King Solomon. In his book, Ecclesiastes, we find him painting a portrait of his life. Frankly, it is quite depressing for the unbeliever. Here we find a man who has spent a lifetime searching, acquiring, and enjoying the finer things of life, only to come to the realization that it is all MEANINGLESS absent God.
To cite the line he repeats over and over again, “it is vanity.”
Here is the apologetical consequence: if God does not exist, then neither does joy exist in the first place. This existence of God has profound implications on the very existence of joy itself.
In Chapter 3 of Solomon’s work, we find this exhortation:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
For those of you who are wondering why I just quoted a song made famous by The Byrds, pick up a King James Bible and visit Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. You will find that it was not Pete Seeger who gave us this wisdom; it was straight from the pen of King Solomon through the Holy Spirit.
You must come to realize that in life, you will experience different seasons. In popular Christian circles, we often refer to this as “mountaintop experiences” vs. “valley experiences.” Read Job’s book–he knew much about this. Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
One of the greatest helps in overcoming the pain you feel and suffering you have experienced is to simply acknowledge that are you are not immune to such things. And before you get mad at God, remember it was God HIMSELF that stepped out of heaven, took on a robe of humanity, and took each brutal flogging for you and me before dying one of the most excruciating deaths known to the history of mankind.
If it is a “get out of jail free card” that you seek of God, you will not find it in Him or anywhere else; but if it is peace you are after, then Jesus Christ will welcome you with open arms.
When Joy Seems Impossible, Encourage Your “Self”
In Scripture, we find the accounting of a hopeless, joyless situation in the life of David (1 Samuel 30).
In short, David along with his men return back to Ziklag, which they found had been burned up by the Amalekites. Furthermore, the women and children had been taken captive. Everything was gone and destroyed.
I want you to notice the reaction of the people: “Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep.” (Emphasis mine).
Have you ever been there?
This is a desperate situation. Here we find a bunch of grown warriors weeping until the very power to do so was gone out from them. To make matters worse, notice their next reaction in verse 6: “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters:”
So not only have they wept beyond control but now they are angry with David, their leader! Well, David’s family was taken captive as well! See, it’s all about blame. These men blame David in the same way humanity blames God today. “If he’s the highest authority,” they say, “then he is to be held responsible for all of our pain and suffering.”
But notice David’s reaction at the end of verse 6: “but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” What does that mean? If we had to postulate about how David encouraged himself in the Lord, I believe we would find him remembering those times when God had his back in days gone by.
Perhaps David recalled the time when he killed a lion and a bear with his bare hands in protecting his father’s sheep. Or, perhaps he recalled the time when God allowed him to smite Goliath of Gath–the Philistine giant–with just a smooth stone.
Here is what David has to say about his experience with the Lord: “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” (Psalm 18:2).
It is interesting to note that shortly after this experience David took the throne of Israel. One of the lowest points in his life came just before one of the highest. God tends to work this way.
See, if we’re honest, we Christians can ALWAYS think back to where God has brought us from. Your life and mine have not been excepted from pain, but I thank God that I can look back on my days and see his hand in absolutely EVERY step. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” I, for one, have found this to be true.
When joy seems impossible, and nothing is making sense, encourage yourself in the Lord about what He has done for you in troubled times.
When Joy Seems Impossible, Engage with The Spirit
Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
According to Paul, the very kingdom of God itself (Christendom) is made up of joy in the Holy Ghost (Spirit) along with righteousness and peace.
In other words, if you are a Christian, these are attributes that are not only available to you, rather, they should be a reflection of your character as a whole. Additional justification for this can be found in Galatians, where Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit–one of which is Joy.
To add a bit more Scriptural support, notice 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This means it is the very will of God that in the name of Jesus, we would give thanks to Him IN every situation. Even when thankfulness FOR a situation is impossible, thankfulness IN a situation is commanded.
So if we put it all together, we could sum it up in one (long) sentence like this:
“God, in His infinite power, has willed that in every situation and circumstance, we would give thanks unto Him in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and through the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit, resulting in the production of spiritual fruit and therefore, the evidencing of one’s position in the Kingdom of God.”
Now, though this may be commanded, and though it seems that joy is a necessary component in the life of a true Christian, we realize that the Christian has a formidable foe to face: himself.
Paul described this as a “warring against the law of his mind” in Romans 7:23. While he is chiefly referring to his propensity to sin, we must remember that it IS sin which makes true joy impossible in the unrepented heart.
Therefore, we see that our lack of joy in the Christian life is often times just a symptom of our human condition–the flesh. Romans 8:13 says, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” In more layman’s terms, “whichever side you feed is the one that wins!”
Don’t give your flesh occasion (Galatians 5:13). When you feed the Spirit and starve the flesh, joy will naturally begin to flow again.
When Joy Seems Impossible, Expect Full Satisfaction
Proverbs 10:28 says, “The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.”
Lastly, the Bible gives us a glimpse of how our expectations affect our outcomes. However, another way to state this is that our outcome should be reflected by our expectations!
Notice this theme in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” While I am fully aware of the Israeli context of this verse, it is hard to miss the application!
For the person who has made the decision to follow Christ, the end has already been determined! I have read all the way to the back of the Book, and I can say with full confidence that we have good things to expect in eternity!
The lesson from these verses is simply that since we know and understand the outcome, we should be able to remain joyful throughout the journey!
So when I say “expect full satisfaction,” what I mean by that is since full satisfaction has already been awarded for eternity, it should be expected (and anticipated) with joy!
But there is one more element in play here: It is found in Psalm 16:11 – “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
Do you understand why our eternal future must influence our present expectations?
Because fullness of joy rests in the very presence of God Himself!
In other words, the expected end for the Christian is not joyous because of the eradication of evil, the absence of sickness and death, or even the reunion with saints of days gone by–it is joyous because we are forevermore in the presence of God!
Joy is manifested in our lives now because we have been given the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) which looks forward to the day we are in His presence, but joy itself will be the culmination of our experience for eternity because we will be in His very presence.
What a marvelous promise God has given to us.
No matter our circumstances, no matter the situation we face today, it is only for a time. I agree with Paul. In Romans 8:18 he says, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
This is such a true statement for the Bible believer.
We just cannot even fathom or imagine what it will be like when we see Him, and when our light and momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17) will be a thing of the past.
Are you missing this joy in your life? Perhaps you’re not saved, or perhaps you need to be drawn into a closer relationship with Christ. I challenge you to apply what you have read to your life. And, as always, feel free to reach out to us directly if you need someone to pray with you or for you.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!