How can I find joy during hard times?
Some days, when life is beating us up left and right, it seems impossible to find things to be joyful. The Bible gives us a different story though. James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." The Bible says that not only is it possible to find things to be joyful about during trials, but it actually commands us to do so!
Unfortunately, part of being a Christian means that we will face times of difficulty. Why? Because even though we are Christians, we are still human beings and that's part of the plan. Jesus went through rough times during His earthly ministry, and if we want to be like Him, (which is what the Christians life is all about), we too will have some hard knocks.
The Bible talks about people who endured some really, really tough situations and yet found joy in the midst of their pain. Take Job for example. Now there's a sad story! He had everything taken away, and he didn't even do anything wrong! He lost his family, his health, his career, everything he had ever worked for, and he still found things to praise God for (Job 1:21). Can you imagine losing everything yet still praising God?
There are plenty of other examples throughout the Bible of people who went through awful things that we can't even imagine, but they all still praised God. Their perseverance made their faith stronger. First Peter 1:6-9 says, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
Shift Your Perspective
Following God's command to be joyous in the midst of trials is really a matter of perspective. If you really look and think hard enough, you will always find something to be thankful for—even if life seems too hard to go on. Be thankful for your relationship with God, thankful that you do not have to spend eternity in Hell, thankful for another day of life. Be thankful that your situation is not worse than it is.
If you step back, you can find the joy and encouragement that God is sending to you. Be thankful for something as simple as a bird that suddenly flew by and made you smile. Being thankful leads to praising God for those things. After all, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). If we are thankful for something, no matter how small, we should turn that into praise for our Lord.
A Spiritual Workout
Trials are no fun, but the Bible says God uses them to make us stronger. There is no spiritual gym we can obtain a membership to so we can go and workout our spiritual biceps. We must be "worked out" and strengthened through God's methods. Trials are one way He develops our character and our endurance. We don't wanna be wimpy Christians with weak faith, do we? No way! We want to be tough and resilient warriors for God who can endure the tests of the flesh.
Okay, so how exactly does a person go about being joyful during terrible, awful, gut-wrenching times?
Joy vs. Happiness
Well, first things first, let's clarify that "joy" does not mean the same thing as "happy". Happiness is something that is temporary—one minute, you're soaring because the teacher forgot to collect last night's homework assignment that you forgot to do...until Mr. A+ sitting next to you reminds her. Aw, snap. Happiness = gone.
Happiness is fleeting, but joy sticks around. For example, if your grandparent who was a Christian passes away, you may feel tremendous grief and sadness; there would be no room for happiness there. But you may find joy in the fact that they were a Christian and now live eternally in Heaven with no pain and no sorrow. This type of joy can only be provided by God. Happiness won't get us through hard times in the long run, but joy from God will.
If we think hard enough on the things of God, we can always find something to be joyful about. Maybe not something that's going to make you "happy" per se, but you can still find deep joy.
Choosing Joy that Lasts
The great thing about joy compared to happiness is that joy can't leave us any more than the Holy Spirit can. It may seem to have disappeared sometimes, but because we are Christians, we have been given the Holy Spirit to continuously work inside of us. Joy is an automatic part of the package! John 15:11 says, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Also, Acts 13:52 says, "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."
Yes, you and I both know that hard times will come. That's just life. But for the believer, God promises that those trials have a purpose (see Jeremiah 29:11). Let's look to Him during those difficulties and remember that no trial lasts forever, but our God-given joy does!
Experiencing God's joy is a choice. During dark days, when we think we just can't make it another step, let's remember that Jesus never leaves us no matter what we are going through. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
Keep truckin' in the midst of trouble and remember that even while you are suffering, you are being perfected for a greater purpose. There is a reason for all the hurts and pain. Remember James 1:12 in those tough times, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
Hang in there, and choose joy one day at a time!
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