“I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love,
because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the distress of my soul…”
This morning we heard another sermon about “joy during trial.” I can’t remember how many times in the last year we have heard sermons (or been sent links to sermons) on this very subject. Of course everyone thinks immediately of us, and how badly we must need to hear these sermons. I’ve been sent cards from loving people at our church following these sermons, where people express their gladness that we were able to hear a sermon about joy during adversity, and they hope it blessed & encouraged us.
That’s all very well and good.
Except that I am continually left baffled by these sermons and a few distinct lackings.
For one thing, no one ever defines their terms.
They throw around words like “joy,” “happy,” and “rejoice”—but they never define them. What do they really mean? Not just in our modern American understanding of the words—but what about in the biblical context? What do those words mean?
And for another thing, they never describe what joy or rejoicing looks like amidst trial. I am convinced that it looks different than joy in times of obvious reprieve. But nobody ever touches that nuance. Why not?
The sermon text today was
Hebrews 12:1-2 “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The point was something to the effect of that we too have a joy set before us, like Christ did, so we should endure whatever crosses our sovereign God brings to us in light of future joys.
He also cited
1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
I believe that verse again emphasizes a future joy. We will rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed, so therefore we may be thankful for that during our sharing of Christ’s suffering.
I have no grievance with the principle that we should endure trial and affliction in light of future joys, and acknowledging that we will rejoice when Christ’s glory is revealed.
But I do have a qualm or two with how it played out.
For instance, when Jesus “endured the cross” and “despised the shame” while He was nailed there, naked and covered in the sins of the world and left by His Father to descend into Hades—was He smiling? Was He singing psalms of praise and adoration? Was He merry and laughing? No, on all accounts. If you remember, Jesus was naked and ashamed, bleeding, gasping for breath, crying, exclaiming out loud a psalm of desperation “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” before He cried His last.
This psalm that Jesus cried out, Psalm 22, is a psalm of David when he felt utterly forsaken.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.”
On and on the psalmist goes throughout the psalm, his pain and anguish and desperation for rescue all very evident.
Are David and Jesus obeying the command to “rejoice always”? The Lord instructs us, through the words of Paul, to “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).
So… back to my point. (What was my point?) 🙂
Joyfulness looks different in times of deep trial and utter anguish than in times of respite and peace.
But nobody ever points that out in sermons.
I sincerely wish they would.
And what about defining the terms? Well… in our modern culture, joy and happiness are quite often used synonymously. In fact, the dictionary definitions I looked up even showed “joy” and “happy” as synonyms:
Joy—the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation; a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated; true happiness…
Happy—delighted, pleased, or glad; characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy; favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky…
If looked at biblically and historically, however, I am fairly certain that we would find a better distinction between the terms. If I had access to my husband’s biblical study tools (or if he had time to look it up for me, maybe… hint, hint…), I could personally look up the original words in Hebrew and Greek to find their true meanings. I did find some links that did it for me! (see below)
While happiness is largely circumstantial, joy stems from our relationship with Christ. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is not.
If you’re interested in reading a site I found particularly helpful, you are welcome to click here. One portion from that page that I was particularly interested in said,
Biblical joy is inseparable from our relationship with God and springs from our knowledge and understanding of the purpose of life and the hope of living with God for eternity when there will be joy evermore. If God is actually present in our lives, the joy He experiences can begin in us (Psalm 16:11). Joy is the sign that life has found its purpose, its reason for being! This, too, is a revelation of God, for no one can come to Him and find the purpose of life unless He, by His Spirit, calls him and reveals it (John 6:44; I Corinthians 2:10).
And an online Bible encyclopedia said of joy,
[J]oy as a religious emotion is very frequently referred to in the Old Testament. Religion is conceived of as touching the deepest springs of emotion, including the feeling of exultant gladness which often finds outward expression in such actions as leaping, shouting, and singing. Joy is repeatedly shown to be the natural outcome of fellowship with God.
Paul speaks of joy as one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22) and of “joy in the Holy Spirit” as an essential mark of the kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). This joy is associated with faith (Phil 1:25), hope (Rom 5:2; 12:12), brotherly fellowship and sympathy (Rom 12:15; 2 Cor 7:13; Phil 2:1 f). To rejoice in the Lord is enjoined as a Christian duty (Phil 3:1; 4:4; compare 2:17 f; 1 Thess 5:16). In Christ, the Christian “rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8), in spite of his temporary afflictions (1 Pet 1:6). Christian joy is no mere gaiety that knows no gloom, but is the result of the triumph of faith over adverse and trying circumstances, which, instead of hindering, actually enhance it (Acts 5:41; Rom 5:3 f; Jas 1:2,12; 5:11; 1 Pet 4:13; compare Mt 5:11,12).
This is very clearly no mere happiness.
This is different.
It stems from something different, it feels different, it looks different.
How come this isn’t preached as a distinction?
Joy in trial often isn’t defined or described. It’s just preached.
It leaves the congregation wondering.
Preachers often make it sound like they’re talking about being happy. Smiling. Laughing. Acting like there is no pain.
It makes people in trial or anguish, those under affliction, feel like we should be skipping around with smiles and giggles, pretending that our hearts are not broken.
Is that biblical truth?
In my experience, I know the difference.
I am frequently not happy.
I doubt anyone could honestly (or biblically) hold that against me when I have had five of my six precious children die. I have sent five little redheads into the heavenly kingdom before my 26th birthday, and in only 2 ½ years of marriage. It is devastating. And it gets more tragic with each baby we bid farewell. Grief upon grief.
So yes, I am often unhappy in trial.
But I can say with candor and truth that I am simultaneously joyful in trial.
Because the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Because I have been baptized into Christ, I have put on Christ, and I am an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:27-29).
And because I do not grieve as one who has no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but look forward to reuniting with my entire family someday when I too enter the Lord’s rest.
How is joy during trial evidenced in my own life??
We maintain fellowship with our Lord and Savior.
We maintain fellowship with our brothers and sisters (although, yes, the fellowship may look different than usual).
Our marriage grows stronger.
Our love for Gabriel and passion for discipling him according to Scripture grows deeper.
We learn new ways to minister to other suffering people.
We better understand Job, David, Paul, and other biblical writers who endured great suffering.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I think Romans 5 tells us what “joy in trial” should look like.
It doesn’t involve skipping. And it doesn’t necessarily involve lollipops, smiles, or giddy games.
It does involve endurance, character, hope, and growth in love.
So those are my thoughts.
A few of them anyway.
Enough for tonight.