Joy has a special spot in my bedroom. She sits on the small love seat, looking completely out of her element as the lone “toy” in the room. But I proudly display her because she’s special to me. I doubt I would’ve ever purchased her myself, but a couple of my precious girls (both friends in their teens—one is my niece) brought her back for me from a trip they took to Chicago. They say that I remind them of Joy. Joy sits there and reminds me of them.
“Joy” was featured in Pixar’s 2015 animated film Inside Out. Joy and her buddies live inside the mind of a young girl (Riley) and guide her emotions. Joy, aptly named, is full of life, passion, and sheer excitement. She’s continually bubbling over with happiness and always sees the glass half full. As the eternal optimist, she has no room in life for sadness. In fact, she works hard to prevent sadness from invading Riley’s happy existence. But as the plot progresses, Joy learns the value of sadness. Spoiler alert: By the end of the movie, Joy understands that she and sadness can actually come together as a team.
Even though it goes against our natural inclination, joy and sadness can (and should) co-exist.
My last two posts were about trail markers, or as I call them: “Faith Markers” that protect me when navigating tough terrain. I’ve learned to depend on these faith markers to get me back on track when I start wandering into the wilderness of fear, unbelief, or self-centered thinking. It is imperative that I keep those trail markers in front of me, all along the way, or I’ll wander into disaster. When I lose sight of the “faith markers,” I’m quickly swallowed up in fear and confusion.
In my last post, I wrote about peace rescuing a fear-filled heart (you can read that post by clicking here). I admitted that at times through this journey I’ve felt like having a solitary sob-fest and screaming to an empty room, “I don’t like my life right now!” (Not that I’ve done that, but yes, I’ve felt that way.) I was surprised by some of the responses to that honest confession.
Maybe I let some people down who thought I was “above” emotions like that. Maybe it was a disappointment to see me less than the “spiritual version” you have in your head. Or maybe you struggle (like Joy of Inside Out) with the concept of joy and sadness intermingling in a healthy and good mix.
Life looks a lot different than it did this same time last year. In fact, life looks nothing like what I had envisioned for this season. It’s more like what people who are twenty or thirty years older than us live. We’re pretty much home-bound right now, isolated and quite limited in what we can do.
It was only sixteen months ago that we were hiking the Glacier Icefields in Alberta, Canada. It was rigorous, but no problem at all for LeRoy (I was breathing pretty heavy, though!). A lot has changed. This has been a drastic and unexpected life-change, but one thing has not changed—the joy that comes from our relationship with Christ.
This is something I’d read about, but never really experienced before: Joy in seasons of affliction.
I’ve never navigated terrain like this before, but I’ve read accounts from believers who’ve endured intense suffering, or incredibly painful losses, persecution, and injustice, and they speak of the joy that runs beneath the surface of the affliction, like a hidden spring far below the surface of parched earth. That is one thing that has really surprised me through all of this: the wellspring of joy that keeps coming.
The outward circumstances aren’t bringing joy. There’s nothing on the calendar that’s sending tingles of delightful anticipation up my spine. There’s no travel plans to daydream about, no fun outings with our little ones, there’s no gatherings with friends, no ministry opportunities, no future events that stir happy emotions . . . nothing external could possibly be bringing this joy, but it’s here. It’s tangible. And I can only explain it as a supernatural grace gift.
Joy is more than an emotion; it’s a supernatural reality. It isn’t something we can produce.
Joy happens in the presence of Christ—and there’s no escaping it when He shows up.
Today, I want us to return to the Psalm 46 “Faith Marker” and learn how it’s possible to experience joy in seasons of affliction.
[box]God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. (Psalm 46:1–5)[/box]
This faith marker keeps the heart ruled by peace and also rooted in joy. I may be running low on physical energy (actually not just low, I’m flat-out exhausted), I may dread the heavy load of chores and duties each day brings (I keep hoping to wake up and find that a magic cleaning service appeared while I was sleeping) . . . but even with all the difficulties of the day, there is an unending flow of joy.
Don’t get me wrong, when I say there is an unending flow of joy—there are tears, there is heartache and painful loss, there is the unknown future that can look bleak, but even with all of the sorrow—there is an unexplainable joy that fills our days.
The hardest part is watching LeRoy endure painful muscle spasms and the constant burning, stabbing, and shooting nerve pain. It is excruciating to see him suffer and not be able to relieve his pain. That’s the physical part, but on top of that is the deep ache from not being with our family (especially the little ones who are growing so quickly), feeling the loss of ministry, longing to serve our precious body, and always carrying the concern for them on our hearts.
And, we miss just having a normal day.
But even with the sorrow, there is joy.
How can that be?
Only by God’s mercy and grace.
The forty-sixth Psalm describes the rewards of following the path it marks for us. And this faith marker brings the sweetest work of all:
- Abiding in Joy
You won’t find the English word “joy” in this chapter, but the word that is translated “glad” is also translated other places in Scripture “to make joyful” and “to rejoice.” In this passage, where the Psalmist is crying out for help when his world is crashing all around him, God is described as dwelling in the midst of His people (that’s you and me) and refreshing them with His life-giving river (v. 4-5) to “make them joyful.”
As we abide in Him, we can’t help but be flooded with joy. We cannot escape joy while in Christ’s presence. Abiding in Him keeps us grounded, unshaken, and immovable. When our roots sink deeply into Him—the vine of our existence, and drink deeply of Him, the living water—we will experience supernatural joy that only He can give. And that’s what’s happening.
This “river whose streams make glad the city of God” is a river we can wade into and open our mouths wide to receive supernatural refreshment. This river is flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. We see it in Revelation 22:1 and are invited to “drink deeply” of this life-giving stream.
Today, I’m encouraging you to drink deeply of Christ in order to experience the joy He has for you, no matter what you’re facing.
Drink deeply of Christ by saturating yourself in His thoughts. Pour His Word into your mind and plant it deeply in your heart. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Look deeply for His purpose in what you’re reading. Ask Him questions about it. Ask Him how He wants it applied to your life.
[box]If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me. (Psalm 119:92–93)[/box]
Drink and eat His Word.
That’s the best way to get to know Him.
When you consume His Word, you’re living in His thoughts. You’re abiding in Him.
That’s where the undercurrent of joy in a season of sorrow and affliction can be found: in Him.
That’s why the Apostle Paul could say “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . . as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing . . . (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5, 10).” Always rejoicing. Always blending the sorrow with the joy. Because “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her . . .”
Let’s pray for one another today. May we experience the joy that comes through abiding in Christ, no matter what we’re facing. As long as we’re in His hand, it’s impossible to escape joy.