Embracing joy - when there is no reason to smile
We all face challenges, disappointments, pain, sorrow, sickness, loss, grief and worries over what might happen. The one may have more problems than the other, but no one’s life is free of any of this. How can we still haves joy in times like this?
In this series I’ve been speaking about joy from the book of Philippians. But when I speak about Christian joy, we do not speak about the smile on the surface. Too many people have walked into too many churches with a big fake smile on their faces while dying on the inside. Too many churches have not been a safe environment to really share what is going on. But that’s not what church is supposed to be like. God wants the real you, and refuses to minister to your mask.
How we deal with the issues in our lives is extremely important. And so, when we do a series called the DNA of Joy, we need to speak about how we can have joy, even when there is no reason to smile.
Below is a diagram that will help us understand how we tend to deal with issues. It helps us to think about how we think about things and approach them. This model applies to all kinds of things in life – I think it is best to just approach this in a neutral way, you’ll know how it may apply to your life.
When there is an issue in our lives; something that is difficult, or painful or troubling, there are several responses that we can give – either consciously or unconsciously.
We can simplify the issue because we don’t like how it affects us. “It’s not that bad”, or “don’t worry, be happy”. The problem is that you then deny the reality. It may hurt more than we say it does.
Simplifying can really cause disturbance in relationships because others may not feel like they are taken seriously.
A more negative version of this is nearly denying the problem altogether. Dealing with it seems impossible, so you act as if it is not there. The problem here is that the effect of the issue doesn’t go away. It might even get stronger. This way of dealing with a problem often also leads to addiction. If the pain is still there, but you are not facing it, you are going to want to num it with something – alcohol or drugs, Netflix, gaming or food.
Another way of dealing with an issue is to make it worse in your head than it actually is. In this way you also make it impossible to really deal with the issue, because it just overwhelms you and makes you feel completely powerless. By giving up, you avoid the struggle.
This is when people say: “my life is ruined” or “this is just the way I am”. It’s when you end sitting in the ruins of what could have been, instead of picking up the bricks and start building.
By embracing an issue, you accept that it is difficult, or painful, but you choose to face the struggle. You don’t avoid dealing with it by ignoring it or escaping from it. You also don’t let it get the best of you and throw you of course. But you choose to face it head on. There is no way over it, under it or around it – you have to go through it. This is the healthy way to deal with issues in our lives because is the only way we can overcome the issue. Victory only comes after the fight.
What does Psalm 23:4 say?
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...
...Because You tell me it’s not that bad? ...Because You pick me up and put me on the mountain? ...Because I just binge watch my favourite sitcom and wait until the storm passes?
...Because I’m never getting out anyway?
No! It says: I will fear no evil, because You are with me!
We know that God will guide us through the mess and the questions and the pain – and He will not abandon us! The verse continues; His rod and His staff – the means by which He is guiding us through it – they comfort me.
Understanding the times
To be able to deal with difficulties in our lives, we need to understand the times we live in, and the position that we have.
Philippians 3:20-21 (NLT)
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.
The time that we live in, is the time when we eagerly wait for Him to return as our Savior. We live in a broken world. Only when Jesus comes again, He will restore all things. When everything is under His control – with other words, when He will be King – there will be no more pain and sorrow and tears and sickness and worry. Until that time, all of these things are going to be part of the daily reality.
Yet, we also need to realize that, as Christians, we have a very special position in all of this. Paul says that we are citizens of heaven. So, even though we are set on planet earth, we are citizens of the coming Kingdom of God.
We live in the tension of the now and the not yet – and we need to embrace this tension, and all the questions that come with it.
We already acknowledge the position of Christ as King – and we get to experience the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
The Kingdom of God is not only coming when Jesus returns, it is also breaking in now. We call this “now & not yet”.
And so, we get to experience inner healing and physical healing, but not always, and not always in full. We get to experience fulfilment in life and purpose – yet, it’s still going to be incomplete until Jesus returns. We get to experience sanctification – but we know that perfection will only come when Jesus comes again. We live in the tension of the now and the not yet – and we need to embrace this tension, and all the questions that come with it.
Philippians 4:4-5 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Here Paul stresses the not yet of the Kingdom of God. The Lord is coming soon, but He is not here yet. We are still experiencing the challenges of life – but let’s be a people of hope.
We are called to be a people of joy, speaking hope even into the darkest situations, because we represent the One on whom all hope is based – Jesus Christ.
Because we know that there is life after death and that there is a complete restoration for those who belong to Christ, life will never be able to knock us down to a place of hopelessness. Hope has come to live within us. And we are going to be a people of joy, speaking hope even into the darkest situations, because we represent the One on whom all hope is based – Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:6 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
In this verse Paul stresses the already of the Kingdom of God. We know that in this life there will be trouble, and we know that the ultimate solution is going to come – but that doesn’t mean we just sit still in the meantime! We are going to get on our knees and expect the Kingdom of God to come in the here and now.
When your flesh feels anxious, let your spirit step up in faith.
And so, our concerns are not leading us to fear and anxiety, but to prayer. God, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You. Do something! Help! The first step to embracing the issues in life and deal with them, is to bring them before God in prayer. We know that God is compassionate, and we believe that He is able to do the impossible. So, when your flesh feels anxious, let your spirit step up in faith. God, intervene!
Three things that help us to embrace joy when there is no reason to smile
I believe that the Holy Spirit is giving us some tools to have joy, even when there is no reason to smile and face the issues in life head on.
Philippians 4:7 (NLT)
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
I love a good healing testimony or miracle report. It’s exciting, touching and just wonderful to know how the supernatural can penetrate human reality. Yet, I think that there are miracles that God does that we just undervalue because they are not as spectacular.
Praying for God’s peace in the storm is not an alternative to His immediate intervention. We always pray for both.
Peace in the storm is as great a miracle as healing. We know how our minds can start racing and our hearts can start beating fast when crisis hits or we when we don’t know what is going to happen next and the fear of ‘the worst that could happen’ just takes over.
Praying for God’s peace in the storm is not an alternative to His immediate intervention. Often, it is the most wonderful thing He could do, showing us that whatever happens, He’s got us safely in His hands. We always pray for both.
Philippians 4:12 (NLT)
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
When our life is not built on our success, relationships or possessions, but always firstly on Jesus, we can be content in every situation. Content is not necessarily the same as happiness. You know, I’m a lot happier when I got a fridge full of food and a wide choice of clothes to choose from every day, then when I am in lack. But when your life is built on Christ first, you can say: “I’d rather be close to Jesus and go naked and hungry then have everything I need and be far from Him. Jesus comes first, and if I need to, I’ll give it all up.”
This is the type of radical dependency the Lord is calling us to. And that’s the place Paul speaks from as well. In his journeys he has been blessed and well taken care of at times, and at other times he suffered. But he considered those things inferior to the joy of living for the glory of God.
Philippians 4:12 (NLT)
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
I’d like to finish this message with a testimony of friends of ours in South Africa, Bernard and Simone. It’s a beautiful family that are very dear to us, with two little girls. Shortly after they moved four hours away from Cape Town to Oudshoorn to support a church plant, they discovered that Bernard had a brain tumor that could not be operated. Months of chemo and radiation would follow.
This family has kept a blog about what they were going through to keep their friends up to date. I’m going to read a bit from a post that Simone wrote the day before they would get the scan to see if the treatment has had any effect.
This past year has been a constant battle for my husband’s wellbeing, for my kids and their wellbeing, against fear, against self-pity. Looking back it was hard (the kind of hard where you have to see your husband struggling to walk, with a total blackout grand-mal seizure thrown in for good measure). But it did not destroy us. He is good and He is on the throne and we are still running hard for Him.
Being totally honest, there have been moments where sadness overcame me, like when the kids pray to Jesus not to take their only daddy because he is the best daddy ever. But I know He is a trustworthy God. He has proved Himself over and over in our lives (not that He needs to prove anything, mind you).
We constantly received the scripture Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you – BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS – DO NOT BE AFRAID, DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED for the Lord your God (my God – the lover of my soul – my heavenly Father who has good plans for me) will be with you wherever you go. And by God’s amazing grace alone we are able to stand in this storm and keep the decrees in this verse – to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid or discouraged and to KNOW that the Lord our God is with us wherever we go, especially in the storms of life.
Against the odds, they received news the next day that the treatment worked and the tumor was not dangerous anymore. This is a miracle, but what I’ve just read is their testimony. God was in the midst of it all, and He has sustained them with peace, contentment and strength.