The Joy of the Lord is My Strength!
Sometimes we in the church are accused of glossing over the fact that life can be hard. We sometimes tend to give the impression that all you need to do is give your heart to Jesus and all of your problems will be solved, all your bills will be paid, you will have success and prosperity and everything you touch will turn to gold. If you are a Christian, you will have a continual smile on your face and always be happy. We make all our baskets, we sink all our putts, we close all our deals.
Does that sound like your testimony? I know it doesn't sound like mine!
I think the problem is that we've confused joy with happiness. Happiness is dependent on happenings. Circumstances in your life dictate whether or not you are happy. Joy, on the other hand is a gift from God - a fruit of the Spirit that transcends whatever is happening in your life. Joy allows you to rise —even to soar— above difficult circumstances, challenges, and heartaches. Joy comes from knowing Who is in control and that He has a plan to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) We do not draw our strength from the great feeling we get when things go right; if we did, we would be powerless when hard times and adversity hit, and we would all be easy pickings for the devil. No, it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength!
Jesus wasn't happy about going to the cross. He prayed the night before "If there is any other way, let this cup pass from me..." But He did have joy in obedience. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross..." There was joy for the Lord Jesus even in the pain and the agony of the cross because He knew the end result of His obedience and sacrifice would be the offer of salvation for you and me. Jesus chose to go through hell for us rather than to go to heaven without us.
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul talks about joy over and over again. Yet he wrote that letter to the church at Philippi while he was imprisoned in horrible conditions. How could he write about joy while imprisoned in a dark, cold, rat-infested Roman cell? It's because joy is not dependent on circumstances!
When you and I face tough times, we can draw on great reserves of joy that are rooted in our knowledge of the faithfulness of God. That's how Job was able to say in the midst of tragedy, heartache and great loss, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15, KJV) He knew God and He trusted God. That is how he could have "joy in unrelenting pain" (Job 6:10, NIV)
Job's friends made the mistake of misjudging Job. But what was worse, they misrepresented God. They presumed to speak for God in telling Job he needed to repent. Job's friends naturally assumed that since things weren't going great for Job, he wasn't living right, and God was punishing him for his sins. I'm afraid the spirit of Job's friends is still very much with us. We see and hear it just about every Sunday.
Now, don't get me wrong here— I've spent most of my life in church. Since I was a teenager I have either worked for a church or worked with organizations that worked with churches. I love the church. I love church people. But let's be honest—sometimes we have a problem keeping it real. We look at each other and smile real big and say, "I'm fine! We're all fine! How about you? Are you fine?" while inside we're hurting. The problem is if I admit to you that I am hurting or struggling, you might assume that I'm not spiritual enough. To avoid that I just pretend that everything is fine, when it really isn't.
If there is any place on earth that you should be able to keep it real, it ought to be the church. God's Word tells us to confess our faults to each other so we may be healed. (James 5:16) But you can't confess your faults if you are afraid to let me know that you have any! In the church we, like Job's friends, have bought into the notion that "spiritual" Christians don't have any problems.
But if you think about it for a minute I believe you will agree with me that the most spiritual people I have ever known were those who had walked through deep dark valleys of sorrow and heartache yet through it all their faith and trust never wavered. It wasn't the smiley-faced folks pretending to be perfect who touched my heart, it was those who I saw pressed on every side but not crushed, cast down but not destroyed. It was in those people that I saw that indeed the joy of the Lord is our strength. I want to be one of those people!
Lord, help me to draw my strength from your gift of joy and not from my feelings or present circumstances!