As I sit down to write this, I have dried tears on my cheeks and a weary heart beating loudly in my chest. My bed is empty, even though I have to wake up in a few hours, because I simply cannot fall asleep.
If you had asked me at 3 o’ clock this afternoon what kind of day I was having, I probably would’ve described my day as “great,” “fantastic,” “awesome,” or some other equally enthusiastic adjective. You see, I had just received some truly exciting news. God answered a prayer that I’d been praying for years. I was so relieved. I was so grateful. I was so joyful.
So, how did I end up laying in my bed sobbing a few hours later?
The simple answer is this: I let the world steal my joy.
We tend to let our circumstances (a snide remark from a sibling, a failing grade on a test, a bit of bad news) distract us from the blessings that God gives us.
Today, I let my circumstances steal my joy.
When things go wrong, we can be quick to forget all of the good that God has done in our lives, but God isn’t changed by our circumstances. Even when bad things happen, God is good. Even when we feel alone, God is faithful. Even when our hearts break, God is love.
That joy that I was experiencing earlier today? It wasn’t from my circumstances, though I had received good news, because, despite that good news, I still had plenty of things to worry about (two research papers, a test, and a mountain of reading). There’s always going to be things in our lives that are stressful, hard, and unpleasant. That’s the reality of living in a fallen world.
No, that joy I was experiencing came from God. I had been seeking God’s will in this area of my life. I had been praying earnestly. I had been doing my very best to hand my worry about this aspect of my life to God. And through all of that, I had grown closer to Him. I was experiencing a blessing that He was sharing with me. I was communing with God, and that’s why I was joyful.
A few hours later, I got into an argument with a friend. There were careless words. There were hurt feelings. There were tears. I, being the completely imperfect person that I am, could’ve probably handled the situation with more grace. In that moment, I was so focused on my circumstances that I didn’t even remember all the ways that God has blessed me. I was so wrapped up in the trials of this world that I pushed God away, choosing to handle my problems my way.
Nehemiah 8:10 says “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah uttered these words during a time of celebration, but he knew that God was faithful in both the good times and the bad.
I don’t know how much you know about the story of Nehemiah, but basically, he was leading a group of people in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He encountered a lot of resistance from the surrounding nations. They both ridiculed Nehemiah and his team for trying to rebuild the wall and physically attacked them. These were pretty rough circumstances, but instead of focusing on his circumstances and withdrawing from the Lord into the world, Nehemiah remembered God’s goodness. He told his people to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families…” (Nehemiah 4:14).
Nehemiah knew that the joy comes from God, and that the joy of the Lord can be experienced even in the bleakest of circumstances. More than that, he recognized that the joy of the Lord provides strength to make it through hard times.
You can experience the joy of the Lord by choosing to grow your relationship with him. That doesn’t mean that there will be no sadness, pain, or discomfort. When you live in a fallen world, as we all do, those things are a part of life. Nehemiah and his people were attacked several more times after he gave that pep talk in chapter four. But in chapter eight, when the wall was rebuilt and the exiles had returned, Nehemiah sat at a celebratory feast and reflected that the joy of the Lord had been his source of strength.
Maybe your circumstances are great, or maybe your circumstances are terrible. Maybe you’re dancing with excitement, or maybe you’re sobbing into your pillow.
No matter where you are in your life, you can experience the joy of the Lord.
Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is an emotion, but joy is the knowledge that God is good, faithful, loving, and able to provide.
I might still have dried tears on my cheeks, but tonight, I choose not to let my circumstances steal my joy.
I choose to run to God with my worries, doubts, and trials.
I choose to remember the blessings He has given to me.
I choose to seek His presence.
And in His presence, I find joy.
As always our team would love to hear from you. If you have any questions, prayer requests, or just need to be encouraged, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Noel Brooks