How do you be joyful in the hard times? How is it possible to find joy when feeling overwhelmed, lonely, hurt, or busy? We all know that there is no magic “joy” button that we can push when things can get hard. When people tell us to choose, “joy,” the encouragement can all too often fall flat.
I think first we must look at joy for what it really is. Joy is often confused with happiness. I think happiness can be an aspect of joy, but joy is more than just happiness. Joy is also more than just the power of positive thinking or being optimistic. Joy is something else all together.
I once heard “joy” defined as “Jesus, Others, You.” That’s good, but I think even that definition in the form of an acrostic is a little too simplistic. I think reading 1 Peter 1 in light of the persecution of the early Christian church, we can gather a little bit more of a grasp on what it means to have joy.
The first thing I think we should be quick to note is that it wasn’t just Roman persecution that Christians had to dodge. Before being called, “Christians,” by the Romans, Christianity was known as a new Jewish sect called, “The Way.” Though “The Way” was known as a Jewish sect, followers of “The Way” (ie: followers of Christ) were highly persecuted by Jews. We see this in Acts. To claim that Jesus was equal to Yahweh (the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead) was blasphemy. This is in no way to be held against those who still hold strongly to Jewish beliefs. However, it is important to note that it wasn’t just under the rule of the Roman emperor that Christians were persecuted.
Peter writes to those who were dispersed by this persecution:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:3-9
What can we learn about this joy that is “inexpressible and filled with glory”? I think the answer is in verses 4-5. Through Christ we are born into an inheritance that is:
1) Imperishable – Jesus talked in His ministry about storing up treasures not in earthly things but in eternal things. Everything that we currently have will end up in the same place in the end: in the dirt. Thieves can also rob us of our earthly things, but thieves cannot rob us of the hope that we can find in Jesus. This is a hope of restoration to God and to each other at the end of all things.
2) Undefiled and unfading – We have mixed motivations. As people, whether we believe in God or not, many of us try to be good citizens. We try and stay within the boundaries of the law, be good employees, and take care of our families. However, our motivations slip into selfishness. We can manipulate each other with our language to get the answers we want (and we do this often times without even knowing it). Though we care for our families, sometimes that is the extent of our caring and we build up walls to protect us from the rest of the world. This act of self-protection actually keeps bad things in as much as it keeps bad things out, and if we don’t open ourselves up to a community of trusted friends then we will rot in our own self-image because we are broken and we are fading physically. I believe that without Jesus we are also fading spiritually.
3) Kept in heaven for you – I think this part is very, very important. Christ came and died and rose from the dead for a mission: you. God sent His Son so that we may be reconciled to Him. This is the good news! The Creator of the universe went on a rescue mission. He keeps a spot in heaven for you! What a mind-blowing truth! I think this is where the heart of joy and hope really exists.
All of this is guarded by God. What does this mean for us? When we feel the least secure, God still has our eternal fate guarded. He protects it. No security system will ever come close to the protection God can offer, and though we may find ourselves struggling physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we can rest that our salvation is secure in Christ because God protects it.
So what is joy, and how can we find it in our trials? Joy is the hope that we have when things seem hopeless. Where our treasure is, there also will be our joy. If our joy is in eternal things, the things of Christ, then our joy can’t be stolen or spoiled. However, if our joy is in earthly things, then we will find ourselves disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned.
This isn’t easy, but it is a worthy pursuit.