Suffering & Joy
JOY THRIVES IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING
Suffering and joy are two strands of a single fiber. Joy thrives in the midst of suffering, for it is not rooted in circumstance, but is born of the knowledge that God is present in every moment of our lives.
WHAT IS JOY?
“Joy,” wrote Columba Marmion in the 19th century, “is the echo of God’s life in us.”
So our joy is Christ in us.
John Piper defines joy as “… a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
Jack Wellman said, “Joy isn’t like happiness which is based upon happenings … No, joy remains even amidst suffering.”
JOY AND SUFFERING CAN COEXIST
The Apostle Paul commended the early church in Thessalonica: “… you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Those early believers experienced joy In the midst of severe suffering, evidence of the Holy Spirit living in them.
Paul encouraged the believers in Rome: “… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 And to the believers in Corinth, he wrote, “For the sake of Christ … I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV
Paul’s words, “I am content with …” can also translated:
- “delight in …” NIV
- “rejoice in …” Barclay
- “I am glad of …” NJB
- “take pleasure in …” KJV
- “can even enjoy …” Phillips
To the church at Colossae, Paul wrote: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering …”
REJOICE IN THE MESSY MIDST OF SUFFERING
Paul’s message is clear. Followers of Jesus don’t rejoice after suffering or as soon as the trial is over, we rejoice in the messy midst of suffering. Why? Because:
- “… [our] names are written in heaven” Luke 10:20
- God is our joy and delight Psalm 43:4
- He fills us with joy in His presence Psalm 16:11.
Jesus prayed His followers would “have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13
“Until now,” Jesus said in John 16:24, “you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
JESUS IS OUR JOY
God promises us the full measure of Jesus’ joy. Complete joy. Because He is our joy.
Heaven is coming, where there will be no more sorrow or tears. No more illness. And there will be no more pain or suffering. No more loneliness or isolation. No more grief. And no more loss.
The One who created us and breathed life into us has prepared a place for us. Our names are written in heaven. Jesus is our joy complete.
“The riddle and insight of biblical faith,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “is the awareness that only anguish leads to life, only grieving leads to joy, and only embraced endings permit new beginnings … those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”
SUFFERING BIRTHS JOY
Jesus said, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20
“Right here lies one of the distinctives of the Christian faith, in that the believer is taught to glory and rejoice in the midst of suffering rather than to sign and submit to it as a necessary or inevitable evil.” E.F. Harrison
Pain is not the antithesis of joy.
Joy thrives in the midst of suffering, for it is not rooted in circumstance, but is born of the knowledge that God is with us – present in every single moment of our lives, attentive, compassionate, and infinitely loving.
NEVER ALONE IN OUR SUFFERING
We are never alone in our suffering, and it is never the end of the story.
Peter wrote, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13
Overjoyed! Elated. Jubilant. Over the moon. Deliriously happy!
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
How to Choose Joy in the Midst of Suffering
A Place to Begin
Read through the Suffering & Joy quotes slowly. Pray about them. Ponder them. Journal your thoughts about them.
The first quote is from Chronic Joy co-founder, Cindee Snider Re:
These are the words of my heart as I watched my son grow weaker, sicker, and thinner. They are words I grieved over as I watched Sam’s friends graduate from college, land career jobs, move out of state, fall in love, marry, and purchase homes, while Sam’s world shrunk to the few dozen square feet of his bedroom.
For three years, Sam’s medical team worked diligently toward his hope of attending college, but weeks after we moved him onto campus, I was picking him up in the middle of the night, because he was just too sick to stay. Sam’s health faltered and continued to plummet. By November, he was on campus only long enough each week only long enough to take his quizzes and exams. Weeks later, we withdrew him completely. I cried through every meeting that day, through every hug, through every box we packed and loaded in the car, through every long mile we drove away from Sam’s dream.
The next five years were the hardest we’ve lived through. Loss upon loss upon sustained loss – an avalanche of grief that we began to recognize “chronic sorrow.”
Yet God tenderly, gently met us there, and these 94 words became trail markers on a new journey, as breath by breath, in the crucible of suffering, we were captivated by joy:
What if illness – the stripping away of our health, our dreams, our understanding of who we are and what our future holds – is really a gift – God offering Himself to us unencumbered by all the noise, all the things that clutter our hearts and so easily fill our days? Because what if that quiet, stripped-away space is where hope is found? Where God reaches in, whispering love to our weary souls until it becomes as familiar as the beating of our very own hearts?
SUFFERING & JOY QUOTES
“Suffering dances mysteriously with joy.” Laurie Davies
“Joy, like all fruit of the Spirit, grows in the fertile soil of suffering.“ Rachel Boulous
“The cup of sorrow, as inconceivable as it seems, is also the cup of joy.” Henri Nouwen
“In the hands of a loving God, sorrow and suffering become the doorways into the greatest and most indestructible joys.” David Powlison
“We do not choose suffering simply because we are told to, but because the One who tells us to describes it as the path to everlasting joy. “ John Piper
“Scripture indicates that life in the age of the Spirit will have the hardest suffering and the greatest joy – and both can be experienced at the same time … This means that even when we are in pain, we can go in search of joy with the expectation that it will, indeed, find and surprise us.” Ed Welch
“We cannot savor joy until we’ve first drunk deep the cup of suffering.” Cindee Snider Re
“If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits, and we would bear them without ever complaining or showing signs of weariness.” Saint Vincent De Paul
“Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.” Saint Augustine of Hippo
“When suffering is accepted with love it is no longer suffering, but it is changed into joy.” Therese of Lisieux
“Suffering is a short pain and a long joy.“ Henry Susu
“There are rare and wonderful species of joy that flourish only in the rainy atmosphere of suffering.” John Piper
“… joy is an all-season response to life. Even in the dark times, sorrow enlarges the capacity of the heart for joy.” Richard Mayhue
“Discovering more joy does not save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” Henri Nouwen
“Her sufferings were her ‘shield’ – they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.” Saint Augustine
“I have learnt to love the darkness of sorrow; there you see the brightness of His face.” Madam Guyon
“In this world, full often, our joys are only the tender shadows, which our sorrows cast.” Henry Ward Beecher
Now joy is compared to desire, as rest to movement … and rest is full when there is no more movement. Hence joy is full, when there remains nothing to be desired. Thomas Aquinas
Suffering & Joy
Invite a friend or family member to do a 16-Day Suffering & Joy devotional or journaling exercise with you. Each day, share one image with each other. Read the quote. Talk about it. Think about it. Write about it. Pray about it.
HOW TO USE THE 16 SUFFERING & JOY QUOTES
- Invite a friend or family member to do a 16-Day Suffering & Joy devotional or journaling exercise with you. Each day, share one image with each other. Read the quote. Talk about it. Think about it. Write about it. Pray about it.
- Share an image a day for 16 days on social media.
- Text an image a day to a friend or loved one. Talk about what encouraged, inspired, or challenged you.
- Use the images as a 16-day prayer prompt. Pray for those in your unique community – neighbors, friends, co-workers, healthcare professionals, mail carrier, grocery store and pharmacy workers, first responders, government officials, etc.
- Study the Suffering & Joy Quotes with a small group either in-person or on-line.
- Download the images and share with your church family.
- Write about your experience with the Suffering & Joy Quotes. What did you learn? How did you grow? What surprised you? Where did you see God at work? How was your understanding of suffering and joy strengthened or changed?
First, joy takes time. Joy is not fast food. It comes, I would say, as a by-product of living a savored life, of having time and taking time to “smell the flowers,” as we used to say. There is this old monastic insight about living a joy-filled life. Take time, take at least some time each day, to do one thing at-a-time.
Somewhere along this rocky, twisting, unwanted adventure of chronic illness comes a place of wrestling with God, with self, with letting go. But it’s OK. Because spring is almost here, hope watered in tears, ready to push through the grief, and burst into light.
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