Confession: I feel like a hypocrite. After this self-exalting and religious-sounding boast, my private life is characterized by depression and struggling to believe the gospel. Some days I wake up. Some days I wish I hadn't. Some days I run to God, others I run from him. It happens. I feel like I live in a pit, trapped by my own emotions.
In my struggle, I feel completely alone.
Which is not true, unless, of course, Paul is a liar.
The Christian worldview gives us reason for rejoicing. While it does reveal that we are more sinful than we could ever hope, it boldly proclaims that we are more loved than we can ever imagine. The God of grace is not only with us, but is making all things new. "This light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Cor. 4:17)."
It often feels like a struggle to believe that I should be rejoicing. Life is hard. I sin. Other people sin against me. I make bad choices. Other people make bad choices for me. I can't think of a single person I've that I haven’t let down. Some days big things happen, other days the little things seem big. There is a real fight to be joyful in God.
Too often, I go to God to feel better. What if that isn't God's plan for the suffering?
Too often we try to bandage the pain. When we do this, we ignore the chance to grapple with God and our own hearts. Scripture paints a vivid picture of this fight in Psalm 42.
In the beginning of the Psalm, the psalmist longs for the day that he will again see the goodness of God. "All the day long, my tears have been my food!" is his cry. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" is his refrain. After he's done here, he keeps going for another full Psalm.
But he doesn't stop there. He isn’t content in being upset.
He's fighting for joy in The Lord.
After his lament, he goes on to remind himself of the character of God. In verses 6 and 7, he writes that his soul is cast down, THEREFORE he will remember God and his mighty works, his awesome power, and his steadfast love. While he certainly hasn't climbed back out of the pit, his refrain has changed: "hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."
This should be our goal as well. While we may or may not feel joyful, we have a tremendous opportunity to shut up and listen to the truth. We must learn to meditate on the character of God. We can fight to find joy in God.
Ultimately, this fight is an opportunity to know Jesus. He experienced trials. He faced temptation. He poured out his life for others, expecting nothing in return. He endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before Him. His joy, the goal of everything he worked and suffered for, was our redemption. It's personal.
For us, the fight for joy involves a lot of hanging on and waiting for God to show up.
If you feel like life right now is a fight for joy, I have found the following to be helpful:
- Don't stay silent (Colossians 1:24, James 5:16, Galatians 6:2). Use discretion, but don't let feelings of isolation become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Paul said that we fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, I believe he meant that we as a body could relate in specific sufferings that Jesus didn't endure, like divorces, break-ups, financial failures, homework, or broken smartphones.
- Don't rely on your own strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10). At the end of the day, you may succeed and you may fail. Either way, God is working things out for your good and His glory. Being prideful and being 'right' might bring momentary comfort, but it won't help you find real, lasting joy.
- Remember the gospel (Romans 8:1, 2 Cor. 4:16-18). You are saved by Jesus and His faithfulness alone. Your destiny is eternal, this suffering is temporal.
- Bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:1-5, Romans 12:15). If your spiritual life is full of joy, try listening to someone who isn't feeling so joyful. Encourage them. But mainly listen. This will also benefit you later when it is your turn to need help.
- Meditate on the promises of God (Psalm 119:9-16, Psalm 16, 63). Life won’t always be easy, and if you don’t prepare then you will be in for an unpleasant surprise.