A friend’s mom sent this to me the other day. To be honest, I didn’t read it until this morning. But I’m glad I finally did. It is packed full of truth about joy amidst difficult struggles. I found every paragraph to have a powerful message about joy, hope, the goodness of God and how they all fit together. I found myself agreeing with almost every sentence. This was just too good not to share. =)

Praise the LORD! For he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust in him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving (Psalm 28:6-7, NLT).

God is constantly at work in our lives, preparing us to do with joy what He created us to do. A.B. Simpson said: “God is preparing His heroes. And when the opportunity comes He can fit them into their place in a moment.  And the world will wonder where they came from.” When we understand that God integrates every life detail to accomplish His will, a deeper level of trust is born in our hearts. 

God wants us to trust Him in every circumstance. Trust is letting go, knowing that God is more than enough. Trust is obedience because what I do reveals what I believe about God regardless of what I say. I don’t think God wastes His direction on a disobedient heart but does, in fact, reveal His plans to those who will obey them. Trust and obedience go hand in hand. The more we obey, the more we will trust and the more we trust, the more we will obey, understanding that He is indeed Lord of all. The result is joy.

We should be women of joy. That is life at its best. However, if we live under the burden of circumstances instead of seeing God in their midst, our hearts will be filled with emotional chaos or spiritual rebellion, and there will be no joy. As Christians, we should be the most joyful people on earth, heart and soul at rest, because we serve the God of all circumstances, Lord of every mountain and Shepherd of every valley. However, this week alone, I have talked with both men and women who are ready to walk away from their lives all because in their hearts, marriages and ministries, there is neither joy nor peace. They cannot see God in their circumstances. The darkness is closing in as they struggle to stay afloat on the storm-tossed seas of strained relationships fueled by exhaustion, burnout, depression and a lack of purpose for living. Anger is a constant companion, and bitterness shadows each step. This is not the way life is supposed to be – is it? 

When we fail to faithfully and continually seek God, we will likely forfeit our joy to human idols and lifeless activities in which we often exchange holiness for tolerance. No wonder we sometimes find life impotent and dismal when it should be powerful and filled with unshakable joy. We are to be vessels containing, and naturally spilling out, the joy of the Lord on those in our lives. That joy is our strength and the salt that makes others thirst to know Him more. Instead of focusing on what is wrong in life, we need to look on the “right” side of life.

A little girl and her father were taking a walk one night. They lived way out in the country on a remote farm far from the neon signs of the city. The night was still and dark, cloaked in reverent silence. Lightning bugs pranced through the tall grass and the onyx skies, celebrating life itself. Father and daughter walked in comfortable silence, satisfied just to be together. With a contented sigh, the little girl looked up into the dark skies filled with winking stars that seemed on the verge of bursting into sparkling worship of their Creator, God Himself. The little girl was overwhelmed and cried out, “Oh, Daddy!  If the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, I wonder what the right side looks like!”

We live on the wrong side of heaven. This world is not our home. It is a broken place filled with unspeakable pain and crushed dreams. Even so, we can live in this foreign land for a while – with joy — knowing that home is waiting, celebrating here because of what we have there. “The Message” translates the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4 this way, “Celebrate God all day, every day. Revel in him!” I love it! Paul is calling us to party!  That’s right! We are to celebrate God every minute of every day for as many days as we have. “Revel” literally means “to party, to raise the roof” or, as my Mama used to say, “paint the town red.” Every day we have a choice to make when it comes to our perspective on life. That choice then determines our attitudes which then lead to the actions that determine success or failure and the quality with which we live and serve.

Paul is serious about joy, and his instructions are clear. We are to be joyful – always.  I know that many times, life makes it impossible to be happy but happiness is not what Paul is talking about. Happiness is a cheap imitation of true joy, depending totally upon man-made circumstances, while joy is an inside job and depends totally upon God’s presence in the midst of those circumstances.  Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us that “the joy you have in the LORD is your strength” (GWT).  Remember that joy is not a feeling but rather a chosen perspective that recognizes the fact that God is in control. I am not talking about the power of positive thinking. I am talking about a real, honest-to-goodness transformation of the perspective from which we live. I’m talking about the power of God, active and present in every circumstance. Don’t settle for Pharisaical religion or slot-filling, box-checking church activity. Settle for nothing less than the unexplainable but undeniable power of God’s presence at work in your life. 

-Mary Southerland


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