Yesterday I went to a local hospital to visit someone, and as I got off my motorcycle (yes, I’m one of “those” guys) I noticed that antifreeze was pouring out of my bike onto the pavement. And I deduced that was not a good thing. What ensued was a three-hour delay in my already packed schedule and a high-level of frustration.
While I was waiting at the bike shop to catch a ride back to the church, I remembered the words of my mentor, Alan Ahlgrim, to find joy in all circumstances. Really? How can you find joy when life throws you a curve ball?
A good friend of mine just found out he has a malignant tumor. Where is the joy in that? Another friend told me he’s going to have an operation for skin cancer. What does joy look like in that situation? And I complain because I had a three-hour interruption due to a faulty radiator.
Oddly enough, the New Testament writers actually make it sound like the impossible is possible. James says to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Paul writes that the Macedonian churches had an “abundance of joy” even in a “severe test of affliction” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Earlier he describes the reality of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Dallas Willard defines joy as a “sense of pervasive well-being” (Living in Christ’s Presence, 82). Joy rises above the murky realities of this world. Joy penetrates the heart, because it is not bound by sorrow, pain or suffering. Even in trials, joy is connected with the knowledge that we will be okay…ultimately. Why? Because God has the final word. And God is a joyous God. As Willard puts it, “If you don’t have a joyous God, you’d better head for cover…. It’s a joyous God that fills the universe” (ibid., 83).
I once read that Mother Teresa trained her staff to carry about an infectious smile, and she would dismiss anyone who did not smile. Part of their ministry description was to smile! This didn’t mean that people were supposed to walk around with a frozen smile, but it emphasized the realization of God’s goodness even in the midst of great suffering. It was bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Goodness entering brokenness. Eternal joy infiltrating temporal sorrow.
It’s hard to see heaven on earth. It’s difficult to find joy in sorrow. Not only does that seem paradoxical, it appears oxymoronic. Joyful sorrow. Joyful suffering. Joyful trials. How can this be? Only because heaven wins. The eternal overshadows the temporal. Joy trumps sorrow. Jesus defeated death. Forever.
Jesus said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Whatever you may be facing right now, whether it’s a blown radiator, or something far worse, Jesus says that it is His joy that is in us, and that joy will be made full (John 15:11).
That, my friends, is the recipe for finding joy in all circumstances. It’s not your joy or my joy that we conjure up through positive thinking; it is Jesus’s joy that fills us up. To get joy, we need to get Jesus. Joy is a byproduct of living in Jesus, and Jesus living in us. Even in the midst of your trial you can have a sense of pervasive well-being, because your life is not limited to your trial, and neither is your joy.