Last week I wrote a blog post called 6 Biblical Reasons God Allows Suffering, While Remaining Good, Fair & Loving. If you haven’t read it and have ever wondered why suffering and bad things happen, I recommend reading it!
Bad things will happen, and we will experience suffering in this life. But that is not the end of the story. God wants us to experience a life full of joy and peace – all the time!
1 Thessalonians 5:16 says,
‘Always be joyful.’NLT
The Command to Have Joy
In fact, this is a command, not a suggested way of living. But is this too high of an expectation? Is it possible to be joyful in all circumstances, even joyful in suffering?
Well, I don’t believe that God would command us to do anything that we are incapable of doing. And Ephesians 3:20 says this:
‘Now all the glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.’NLT
Not in Our Own Strength
We might not be capable of being joyful all the time in our own strength, but we are not alone. God’s power is at work within us, and he is able to accomplish far more than we can think or imagine!
This verse also tells us that we don’t have to think or ask about some specific end or goal. His power is at work, whether we ask or think about it. We don’t have to expertly or precisely word our prayers so that God will empower us to experience joy in all things. His power is always available and always at work.
So how do we access God’s power and experience joy in all circumstances, even in suffering?
How to Access God’s Help & Power
Let’s examine a few examples from the Bible. How did men and women of the Bible experience God’s joy in all circumstances?
Job was a very wealthy and prosperous man. He was a righteous man. But in a very short span of time, Job finds out that all his livestock, servants, and children have suddenly and catastrophically died.
How does Job respond? He tears off his clothes, shaves his head and mourns. But rather than curse God for seemingly cursing him, he blesses God.
‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’Job 1:21-22 (NIV)
What God wants from us in these moments, is to not give up on him. He wants us to hold onto him and fully rely on him. Job continued to be an upright man and never blamed God for his suffering.
Job Submitted to God’s Authority
Job wasn’t immune to his suffering. He felt every last bit of it. But he didn’t listen to those who tried to influence him to doubt God or his relationship with him.
Job also recognized and submitted to God’s Sovereign authority. He knew that God was in complete control. He trusted in that. If Job had to suffer, God must have had a reason, but God would uphold him through that suffering.
‘You guided my conception and formed me in the womb. You clothed me with skin and flesh, and you knit my bones and sinews together. You gave me life and show me your unfailing love. My life was preserved by your care.’Job 10:10-12 (NLT)
While Job was a righteous and blameless man, David’s suffering was a direct consequence of his sin. He committed adultery with another man’s wife, and she became pregnant. Then David had that man killed so that he could marry her.
David could not bear the guilt of what he had done. He confessed his sin to the prophet Nathan. Nathan told David that he was forgiven by God, but because of his disobedience his child with Bathsheba would die.
When David returned home, his child had become deadly ill. David pleaded and begged God to spare his child. He took off his royal robes and wore sackcloth. He refused to eat and spent day and night lying on the bare ground. But on the seventh day the child died. His advisers were afraid to tell him – afraid of what the king would do next – but when he saw them whispering David instantly knew.
David Never Stopped Worshiping God
How did David respond? He got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotion, and changed his clothes. Then he went to the Tabernacle to worship God.
We can pray and ask God to take away our suffering (and David did that fervently), but we won’t always get the answer we hoped for.
David recognized his own guilt and the consequences of his actions. He repented and chose to stay in close union with God and worshiped him.
David also experienced suffering through persecution by his enemies. He often wrote about this in the Book of Psalms. His response through all forms of suffering was to trust in God’s love for him and to never stop praising and worshipping God in all circumstances.
‘When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”Psalms 94: 19 (NIV)
Hannah was barren. She could not have children. The Bible says that God closed her womb. If you have ever experienced infertility, you will know the sorrow that Hannah suffered. Not only was Hannah barren, but her husband’s other wife (who had children) bullied her causing depression and anorexia.
How did Hannah respond? She went to the temple and prayed continuously and persistently. In fact, she prayed so much that the priest thought she was drunk. She explained to Eli, the priest, that she had been praying out of anguish and grief. He blessed her and she went home, ate, and was no longer depressed.
Hannah Never Stopped Praying
Hannah continued to pray and worship the Lord, and the Lord blessed her with a son, Samuel – the great prophet and judge of the Old Testament.
Hannah also had a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude. How many of you would be able to give up the miracle child that you never thought you’d have? In 1 Samuel 1:27-28, Hanna says this:
‘I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.’1 Samuel 1:27-28 (NIV)
Ever since Saul became the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, he faced persecution and the threat of imprisonment and death. In fact, he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while imprisoned in Rome.
A prison cell in ancient Rome was nothing like prison cells today. They were underground holes, with poor ventilation and no light. They didn’t have individual cells, so Paul would have been imprisoned with several other prisoners surrounding him. It was filthy and there was no washroom, so the cell would smell of urine and feces. Prisoners were hardly ever fed, and they were surrounded by rats.
This was not an environment that would easily spark joy. Yet Paul said in Philippians 1:12 & 14,
‘Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.’
‘And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare to proclaim the gospel without fear.’
Paul Didn’t Focus on Himself
How did Paul respond? He took the focus off himself and focused on others. He stopped looking at his own circumstances and look for ways to help the people around him. He shared the love of Christ and helped to spread the gospel.
Paul cared more about his eternal purpose rather than his present circumstance. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, he says:
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.’2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NLT)
Paul focused outward and upward, rather than on himself. And Paul knew the secret of success about joy in all circumstances:
‘We can rejoice to, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.’Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)
Paul understood that God can use suffering in our lives to refine us and help us to become more like Christ. And this is something to rejoice about!
8 Ways to be Joyful All the Time
What did we learn from Job, David, Hannah, and Paul? When going through challenges, or facing suffering:
- Don’t give up on God. Resist the urge to get angry and blame him. Continue to be faithful to God, as he is always faithful to you.
- Remember that God is sovereign. He has everything under control. Trust in God’s promise that he ‘causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God’ (Romans 8:28). It might not always feel like it, but we can trust that God has a plan, and our future is secure.
- If necessary, repent. Some of the problems and suffering we go through might be the result of our own bad choices. Have we been leaning on God for direction, or have we chosen our own way? We mess up. But we have a gracious God who is always ready to forgive and accept us with open arms when we repent.
- Never doubt God’s love for you and continue to express your love for God through worship everyday. Not only will your worship bless God, but telling God how much you love him, singing it to him, uplifts your spirit too.
- Don’t stop praying! Pray continuously and persistently. God wants to hear about our suffering and about what makes us anxious or scared; and though these circumstances might not immediately go away, God wants to carry our burdens. Give them to God, and trust in his plan.
- Don’t forget about gratitude. It might not seem like you have anything to be thankful for, but you’d be surprised what you can come up with if you try. Someone once said, ‘there is always someone worse off than you’. Thank God for even the smallest of things, and you will find that your circumstances seem less grim when you shift your focus on how God has blessed you.
- Stop focusing on yourself. Look outward and upward. God can use you, even in your suffering, to help others and give God glory. Keep your eyes fixed on your eternal prize.
- Rejoice in how God will shape and refine you through your life experiences to become more like Christ.
The Difference Between Happiness & Joy
I think it’s important to make a distinction between being happy and joyful.
Happiness is in the moment. It’s a reactive emotion that is based on feelings, moods, and circumstances. It comes and goes, and it is most evident on our faces – an outward expression.
Joy goes much deeper and overflows. It transcends feelings, moods, and circumstances. It is a practice and an attitude choice. It’s deliberate and intentional. It’s an expression of our soul, and it is most evident by our sense of peace, meaning and purpose.
Finding Joy in the Small Things
I worked in the ER for 13 years and I saw a lot of suffering. Some of the people I met left impressions on me that I will carry for the rest of my life. But seeing others suffer, really suffer, completely changed my outlook on life. It made me become grateful for the simplest things. I could find joy in the tiniest of moments and I realized that what the world said mattered most, didn’t matter at all.
Sometimes, in order to find joy in all circumstances, we need to take a look at what others are going through. We need to take our eyes of ourselves for a moment and see the things that matter most. See the needs around us and get out there and help.
Jesus led by example. He knew what kind of life would offer the most fulfillment, joy, and peace. And that life is the life of a servant. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve.
Defiant Joy by Stasi Eldredge – How to choose joy that can stand up to the challenges of real life and overwhelming pain. This book will help you get off the emotional rollercoaster and experience daily joy.
Choose Joy by Kay Warren – It is possible for everyone, no matter the circumstances, to experience daily joy. This book teaches you what joy really is, where to find it, and how to choose it no matter life’s circumstances.