Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
RETURN TO THE SOURCE OF YOUR JOY
The surgery was risky. Everyone knew it. The doctors told the family to say goodbye beforehand.
As my friend sat in the pre-op room, waiting for the nurses to take her mother into surgery, she couldn’t stop crying. How could she say goodbye, not knowing whether this would be the last time she’d see her mother alive? She wanted to be brave, to trust God, to not worry, but somehow, she couldn’t. She couldn’t even force a smile.
As she sat at her mother’s bedside, already grieving, mentally preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, her mother declared: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Those words made my friend angry. They were supposed to be comforting, but at that moment, they enraged her. “Rejoice? Seriously?!” she thought. That didn’t make sense. She couldn’t even think of rejoicing right then, especially with all the uncertainty. Rejoicing was for later when her mother was in the recovery room and out of danger.
“Don’t say that,” she hissed. Seeing her mother’s pleading smile, she softened and said, “I can’t handle the thought of losing you. I can’t rejoice. Not now. Not yet. But I will rejoice when you’re out of surgery and doing fine.”
Her mother whispered as she pulled her close, “Of course you can rejoice. Rejoice means to return to the source of your joy. The true source of our joy is Christ and that will never go away – so I can always rejoice, no matter what I’m going through.”
Those words were still echoing in my friend’s head when the nurses came to take her mother for surgery. She kissed her goodbye and walked into the waiting room.
RETURN TO THE SOURCE OF YOUR JOY. IMPOSSIBLE?
My friend’s mother died on the operating table that morning. That bedside encounter was the last time she saw her mother alive.
In the days following, she kept replaying her mother’s last words. Could she do what her mother suggested? At first, it seemed crazy and impossible, but over time those words have marked her life. Living them has been the best way to honor her mother – and the Lord.
Return to the source of your joy.
What a life-changing perspective on rejoicing! It shows our joy is not dependent on what happens to us or around us. This makes sense in light of the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a). While we can find joy in the good gifts that God has given us (like loving families, deep relationships, healthy bodies, and God-honoring ministries), they cannot be the source of our joy.
The source of our joy is the LORD, the Trinity in its fullness: God the Father is the maker of heaven and earth. He made the sea and all that is in it (Acts 4:24). He created all the beautiful, wonderful things we enjoy. Jesus (God the Son) is our redeemer and friend, our intercessor, and our Savior. He has broken the power of sin over us so that we might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6: 3-4). God the Holy Spirit dwells in us, comforting us, guiding us, showing us the deep things of God, and guaranteeing us our inheritance. As we fellowship with the Trinity, we need nothing else. Our joy is complete in the Lord.
RETURN TO THE SOURCE OF YOUR JOY
If you are in the middle of a hurricane right now, these words may sound theoretical, empty, impossible, and even foolish – but don’t discount them. Ask God to give you that joy – joy that is counter-intuitive to everything you know in the world, joy that mysteriously grows deeper (not weaker) in trials, joy that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22), and is everlasting (Isaiah 35:10). It’s possible. I’ve tasted it.
It was over 20 years ago, and I had just buried my two-month-old son Paul. I felt numb and distant from God, wondering why he hadn’t spared my son’s life. I hadn’t picked up the Bible in days and when I did, it held little comfort. Each time I walked by the empty nursery, I felt nauseous and afraid. I woke up throughout the night, imagining I heard Paul’s faint cry. During the day, I kept myself busy painting, scrapbooking, cooking – anything to distract me from the noises in my head.
I decided to run an errand to stop replaying the horrifying events of the past weeks. So, I got in the car and started driving, mindlessly turning down streets. I was too numb for my brain to even engage. Everyone was going about their business as usual – didn’t they know the world had shifted on its axis?
WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO PRAY
I didn’t want to pray. What would I even say to God anyway? What could God do now? Paul wasn’t coming back, so there was no point in asking God for anything. Yet at the same time, I hated this distance from Him. I felt lost.
So, I cried out to God in desperation, simply whispering the words, “God help me.” I wanted to be close to the Lord again, but I didn’t know how. Then, I started playing a worship song in the car, wondering if that would help me draw near to God.
I’ll never forget what happened next. As the music filled my car, I started singing – really singing. I wasn’t just saying words; I was worshiping God. Long after the music stopped, I was still enjoying God. The presence of the Lord was more real than it had ever been. I was so happy that I started laughing, unable to contain my joy. That joy and closeness to God are still here today, though I feel it most strongly when life is the hardest.
Return to the source of your joy.
To people who don’t know the Lord, these words may sound insane, but to the Christian, they are the purest, most beautiful offering to God. When we find our joy and treasure in God alone, we are offering God something far more precious than simply raising our hands in a church service.
When life is pressing in, return to the source of your joy. Realize that God is more satisfying and life-giving than anything this world can offer. This is the greatest act of worship. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
First published on Vaneetha’s blog, September 2018. Published with permission.
Vaneetha writes and speaks about meeting God in suffering. She is the author of The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and her memoir, Walking Through Fire. You can find her writing at Desiring God and Vaneetha.com. Vaneetha lives in North Carolina with her husband Joel. She has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. Watch Choosing Joy in Suffering from Diamonds 2019.
Where do I find joy?
Joy is discovered in big events and in small, seemingly insignificant moments, in both mountain-top experiences, and smaller expressions we can easily overlook, like a kind word or a helping hand.