Choosing joy in life’s hard places is easier said than done, but it is possible. I had opportunity to make this choice after a difficult week filled with bad news: Two of my friends, both of them cancer survivors and mothers with young children, learned that their disease had returned with a vengeance. One of my ministry co-workers was battling COVID in ICU. Another was diagnosed with blood clots in his legs. Tension surfaced in my family over political differences.
“Seriously, God?” I prayed. “My heart can’t handle more sadness.” That’s when the Holy Spirit brought James 1:2 to mind. ”Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT).
Considering troubles as opportunities for joy seems like a tall order, so it’s helpful to have a proper understanding of what true joy looks like. In her book, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, Kay Warren writes, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
Warren didn’t birth this definition lightly. She coined these phrases, wrestled through them, and learned to live from their truths in the wake of her son’s suicide. While our hardship might not resemble hers, our hurt is no less real and our need for joy is no less vital. Using her definition as a foundation, here are three insights that have helped me learn to apply James 1:2.
Joy is the Settled Assurance that God is in Control
Our hardships don’t surprise God. He doesn’t fall asleep on the job only to wake and discover that His purposes have taken a detour. He is intimately involved with every detail of our lives. We can rest assured that God Almighty has got this. We can trust Him because of who He is: He is wise (1 Timothy 1:17). He is strong (Isaiah 40:28-31). He is good (Psalm 100:5). All the time.
Joy is the Quiet Confidence That Everything’s Going to Be Okay
The difficult situation we face might not end as we hope, but we need to remember that we don’t see the whole picture. God does, though, and He will bring His purposes to pass. When we respond to Him with a surrendered heart, He brings beauty from ashes and replaces our mourning with joy (Isaiah 61:3). He uses our difficulties to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). Ultimately, He will wipe the tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Joy comes when we remember that God and His faithful ones always win in the end.
Joy is the Determined Choice to Praise God in Every Situation
We might not feel like praising God when we’re in distress, but we can choose to overrule our emotions and do what’s right. The list of things for which God deserves praise is as infinite as He is. For starters, we can extol Him for His mercies that come with a fresh supply every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). We can acknowledge His love from which nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38-39). In addition, we can worship Him for His power that’s able to accomplish more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
We can also thank God for promising to help when we call on Him and for working behind-the-scenes in ways we don’t yet see or understand. When we praise God for who He is and thank Him for all He’s done, we demonstrate faith that He is bigger than the hardship and will bring about the best outcome.
Unlike happiness, joy does not depend on our circumstances. We can experience it at all times because God is faithful no matter what our situation looks like. Author Henry Blackaby writes, “Conditions may change, but God remains steadfast. He may not remove your problems, but He will keep His hand on you. So choose to rejoice. After all, God is ever faithful.”
That truth—God is ever faithful—helped me choose joy in the midst of wave upon wave of bad news. Let it do the same for you. When our hearts feel like they can’t handle more hurt, let’s remember that God is in control. The outcome may or may not look like what we hope, but it will be good. And we can praise God in the middle of our distress because He is bigger.
Grace Fox is a career missionary, author, co-host of the podcast “Your Daily Bible Verse,” and popular speaker at women’s events.
Her new book, Fresh Hope for Today: Devotions for Joy on the Journey is available wherever Christian books are sold.
I very much appreciate Grace for sharing her wisdom with us today. Also, stop by her website. I have found it helpful, myself, along with her other books.
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