"Whom, having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:8-9
I find the word “joy” to be a very interesting word. In looking it up in a Bible dictionary, I found out that it is considered an attribute of God and a work of God in the life of the believer. We often equate happiness with joy, but the truth is that they are two distinct emotions. Happiness is a warm fuzzy feeling that depends largely on what is happening in our lives…good health, congenial company, pleasant surroundings, having healthy friendships, etc. the emotion of happiness cannot coexist with unhappiness. Joy, on the other hand, is a positive emotion of contentment and trust that is not dependent upon our circumstances or the company we are keeping. It is dependent on our knowing God and taking Him at His word. It can co-exist with sorrow.
We have several Biblical examples of that -- Isaiah 53:3 says that Christ was a man of sorrows and that He was acquainted with grief. Then Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before Him He was able to endure the cross. Another example is when the crowds that Paul and Silas were preaching to turn against them rather than accepting Christ. They beat them and threw then into prison. Yet, at midnight the other prisoners heard them singing praises to Jehovah, the God for who they were imprisoned, yet trusted. In 1 Peter 1: 6-7 Peter wrote to Christians who were dispersed because of their faith and encourages them to rejoice even though they were feeling sorrowful because of their many trials. This was because Peter fully understood that the trials of their faith that the dispersed people were experiencing gave them an opportunity to bring glory and honor to God as He produced His joy in them. He then points out that while they continue believing they had joy unspeakable!
The last couple of years I have contemplated the whole concept of joy. It seems some people are born with a natural tendency toward it and can always look at the bright side of things while other people are born with a "darker" personality and have to work at maintaining a joyful perspective. However, if we believe what the Bible says it is very freeing to realize that deep joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That means it is not something that we are responsible for mustering up on our own. As a person matures in Christ and grows in their intimacy with Him, joy will become more and more apart of them and more and more visible to those around. That does away with the misconceptions that if we are good enough our life will be blessed and we will have more joy. As we grow and learn to trust Christ a supernatural unspeakable joy will begin to permeate our soul. Is it really possible to have that in the face of persecution, trials, illness, hurt feelings, or grief? It has taken me a while to reach this conclusion, but I would say without a doubt that the answer is "Yes!"
I realize that at one point in my life I thought God would be more glorified if He would intervene and change some of the painful circumstances I have experienced, heal people I love and have prayed for, or instantly free me or others from our struggles with sin. Over the years I have come to believe that sometimes the greatest miracles of all are the miracles that take place in a person’s heart. Maybe God leaves fearful circumstances because He glorified more when He can turn my fear in to courage. Maybe He leaves me in the middle of hurtful circumstances because He is glorified more when He can heal me of hurts and teach me to be gracious and forgiving. Maybe God doesn't instantly free me from all of my struggles because He can be glorified more as He shows Himself to be my strength in the face of my weaknesses giving me victory in the face of temptation.
Maybe in God's economy the glory of something He has created or changed outwardly is not nearly as glorious as a radical change of heart. Maybe God is glorified more when I or someone else has joy in the middle of "manifold trials", because that joy is born out of a heart that has experienced and accepted the perfect unconditional love of God in the face of adversity. I know my joy is deepens when I chose to keep my mind focused on my Creator and have accepted the truth that the Lord is perfect even in His sovereignty over His creation. Thus, God is truly glorified when joy is perfected in us through the trials and temptations that we experience as we learn to praise, honor, and rest completely in God…revealing to those around us that we truly do believe in a God who in all of His majesty and glory and power is ever faithful and true to His Character and love.
Prayer: Father, help each of us to be like the people that Peter was writing to. Even though they were facing tremendous circumstances and trials they had found Christ to be a living hope. They loved Him in the face of their trials and they found unspeakable amounts of joy in knowing Him and thereby brought honor to You in how they responded to life. If we face trials please use them to bring honor to yourself. Help us to see them as an opportunity to know and walk with You. Give us hearts that are joyful and seeking after you continually no matter what is happening to and around us. Help us to be like Paul and Silas who are found continuously praising you even in a dark place like a prison. Thank you for your love and your faithfulness to us. Amen.