Most evenings when I’m not travelling my wife and I take long walks just before sunset. We’re fortunate that our neighborhood is connected to many others by safe roads and walking trails. During our walks we see many other people. Some are alone, and some are couples. Some greet us cheerfully, and others seem so preoccupied by troubles that they don’t even acknowledge that we’re passing by one another.
Last evening we exchanged pleasant greetings with two middle-aged women who were walking toward us. As they passed I happened to notice that one of the woman was wearing a tee-shirt with the words, “Choose Joy” on the front. I mentioned this to my wife, Bonnie. We talked for a few minutes about how even in the midst of significant challenges we’ve been blessed in our adult lives with a deep sense of joy.
My normal reading schedule early this morning included working my way through Psalm 30. I was struck by the second part of verse five that reads, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning (ESV).” This got me thinking again about joy.
I’ve heard our Pastor say several times over the years that there’s a big difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances. It generally comes and goes with the ups and downs of life. Joy, on the other hand, is found at the heart level. It’s a deep-seated sense of delight based on knowing that one is loved by God, and that God is in ultimate control. Joy tends to increase as one grows closer to God, and in anticipation of what awaits us after this life. Although the trials of life bring other emotions into play, joy based on biblical faith remains deep-seated even in the most difficult times.
A great example of joy in the midst of pain is found in Hebrews 12:2. It’s noted in this verse that even as Jesus hung on the cross he was able to endure it because of the joy that was set before him. In other words, Jesus trusted that even though he was experiencing one of the most painful deaths a person could suffer, he knew that all would be well. He trusted in his Father’s will and plan, and walked in obedience to it.
Look at the young boys in the image above. They’re playing in a river in Southeast Asia. They may simply be happy based on their circumstances. Afterall, this is playtime. I’ve spent a good deal of time in this part of the world. Based on my time there, I suspect that what’s pictured above represents joy rather than happiness. I say this because based on my experience of living for more than a year in the homes of families in Islamic portions of Southeast Asia, I’ve noticed that children are treasured. I suspect that the boys pictured live in a village setting in which they trust that their parents, extended family members, and others in the village love them and will carry the burdens of life.
In the same way that these boys can trust that the things over which they don’t have control will be handled by others, Jesus invites us to trust in him. In Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Jesus says:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There’s no question that during life on earth we will all face pain, hardship, troubles, and suffering. And yet, even in the midst of our worst times we can choose joy. We can do so because to the degree we trust God, we know that no matter what happens he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5). Whether we or those we love live or die, if we trust in and love God all things will result in good (Romans 8:28). That’s the message of biblical faith. Just as Jesus endured hardship for the joy set before him, we can know a deep sense of joy in times of suffering and in days of peace and abundance.
Sometimes the best way to understand something is to consider its opposite. To me, the opposite of joy is dread, or despair. These represent having no hope, and no way forward. It’s like being lost in a wilderness and having no chance at all of rescue or escape. Joy, on the other hand, is based on the certain knowledge that we are not alone, and that the best is yet to come.
Are you facing significant challenges right now? Are you carrying heavy burdens? If so, consider the invitation Jesus made in Matthew 11:28-30 as quoted above. The Lord works in mysterious ways. It may be that the things you’re facing right now will provide you with the opportunity to trust Him as you never have before. Jesus invites you to come. Doing so involves acknowledging that we’ve lost our way, and that we’ve chosen to place our trust in Him for all things.
Placing your faith and trust in Christ will likely not solve all your immediate problems. There’s no doubt, however, that as you grow closer to God and grow deeper in your knowledge of biblical faith, dread and despair will eventually be replaced with a deep-seated sense of joy. As this grows, you’ll know in your heart that all will be well no matter what happens. This will help you find the strength to persevere through the trials of life.