When I was a kid in Sunday School, we used to sing the chorus derived from the book of Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is my strength. Oh, the joy of the Lord is my strength.”
The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2, emphasis added).
Trials like COVID-19, government-mandated lockdowns, unemployment and economic recession, social unrest, hurricanes, rancorous politics, and wildfires. And the deeper struggles of loss, sorrow, pain, fear, disappointment, discouragement, and depression.
For our SAT-7 friends in Beirut, their trial looked like an explosive blast that destroyed an estimated 60,000 homes and 10,000 businesses, resulting in 300,000 newly homeless. The trauma impact of this catastrophe upon the Lebanese people, including children, is not unlike the 9/11 impact upon Americans in 2001.
Some of us face ongoing adversity or suffering. Yet the Apostle Peter recommended joy even if such trials are chronic:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Pet. 1:6).
Joy in the face of all this? Yes. But you say, “I can’t do that.”
And that’s the point. We can’t do that, not on our own. We need the Lord to deal with God-sized trials.
Joy or happiness is something every human being wants for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
In the Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Life and liberty are certainly Biblical values, but happiness was a concept from the Enlightenment borrowed from political philosopher John Locke, an idea that appealed to Jefferson, which he, along with other thinkers in that era, considered essential to the possibility of liberty.
Happiness, though, is difficult to define. It seems temporal, or changes quickly, and it is rooted in external circumstances and how we respond to them. Happiness is, it appears, something that we cannot “make happen” by choice. It comes and it goes with our feelings about what’s happening to us in “our space.” While there may be nothing wrong, per se, with the idea of happiness or “being happy,” it can be elusive, especially if people pursue the idea at all costs, what Solomon calls in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes “a chasing after the wind.”
Joy is similar yet different from happiness. Joy can be defined as a sense of well-being based not upon circumstances or our emotions but upon knowledge of who God is, who He made us to be, and what our lives are about. Joy, then, is a matter of right thinking, not something beyond our influence but a choice we make in our hearts and minds.
Joy can be long-lasting and, rooted as it is in the trustworthy knowledge we gain from the Word, is an inner experience and expression, a contentment and an uplifting sense of peace only God can provide. So, “may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful,” (Ps. 68:3).
The Bible commands us to “Cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Pet. 5:7) and promises we will “find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Then there’s this assurance:
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love, He will no longer rebuke you but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
The great reformer Martin Luther experienced these promises firsthand. He faced the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death. He rejected fear and flight, yet he thought people foolish for not using the brains God gave them to avail themselves of reasonable and current ways to protect their health. All the while, he trusted our Sovereign God to work His will with grace and love with respect to his family and his community.
How do we survive and thrive even in the midst of trials like the ones year 2020 has brought us? We remember and practice the poetic theology of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights,”(Hab. 3:17-19).
The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10).
Dr. Rex Rogers
President, SAT-7 USA