Joy in Sorrow

You don’t need me to tell you this, but these are very challenging times for all of us. For minority communities, these pandemic induced stressors don’t compare to the stressors of daily life such as the fear for safety for you or your children. I cannot begin to understand the suffering faced by those in the African-American community, for example. These are certainly times that call for Biblical lament.

We as Christians need a more biblical understanding of grief and loss. Perhaps we can also benefit from one the best of psychology has taught us about grief and loss,

We as Christians need a more biblical understanding of grief and loss. Perhaps we can also benefit from one the best of psychology has taught us about grief and loss, stress management, and healthy coping skills for the challenges we all face. We must not ignore the genuine emotions (positive and negative) people are experiencing right now. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

One of the unhealthiest practices I engage in is excessive screen time. I know what I should do to limit my screen time to increase greater wholistic health but choose often to ignore what I know. Scripture challenges me on this point-if one knows to do something and does it not, to him it is sin. I know that I should not begin my day by checking the social media feed before I spend time with God, yet I have found myself in this rut lately.

Everyday for the past several weeks I am immediately confronted with the latest act of violence as soon as I open my Facebook feed. I am grieved BOTH over the injustice faced by the African-American community as well as the destruction of our towns and cities and the widespread chaos across North America. I must admit that all of these things have challenged my joy lately. Sure, I could refuse to check social media but that doesn’t mean the terrible things in our world will stop. Christians are not supposed to be those who run away from threats but run toward them with the love and courage of Christ.

I am grieved BOTH over the injustice faced by the African-American community as well as the destruction of our towns and cities and the widespread chaos across North America.

The writer of Ecclesiastes expressed it clearly when the writer stated that “There is a time to rejoice and a time to weep.” (Ecc.3) We all need healthy space for grief and sorrow. Christian leaders, we need to incorporate more lament in both our teaching and worship ministries. During all this sorrow, though, is there still space for the people of God to maintain joy? In this post I want us to consider the subject of Joy in Sorrow.

If I were to ask you, “How is your level of joy right now?” what would you say? How’s your heart? If you like me feel overwhelmed and sad over the brokenness of this world, you are not alone. That’s one thing we all have in common right now-we are all grieved over the brokenness we see in the world but also, we are grieved over the brokenness we feel in our own sinful hearts. The Christian faith recognizes pain and sorrow, admits that even unpleasant emotions are given to us by our Creator, and provides a stable foundation for us to understand all of reality. (worldview) Wherever you find yourself today, God’s word is relevant. Though you may feel overwhelmed and sad over circumstances, you can still maintain internal joy.

It has been said that happiness is based on circumstances and joy is based on lasting internal realities. I am so thankful we are not left to sort out our emotions on our own. When you read the Bible, I hope you see countless stories of brokenness that are met with the radical hope of a generous and loving God.

Many passages on joy could be referenced today but I have chosen to share a passage from Philippians with you. I will focus my reflections on Philippians 4:4-7.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7, CSB

Paul writes to encourage the Philippian Christians. Apparently, some of them were grieved over his imprisonment. He wanted this little flock of Jesus followers to know that even in trials, imprisonment, or persecution, God’s people can still maintain joy. That message surprises us because in our Western way of thinking we struggle to reconcile how suffering and joy and be used in the same sentence. Yet this theme permeates the Bible. Philippians has been referred to as the “joy book of the bible” by some commentators and that shouldn’t surprise us since the word for joy is used some seven times in the letter.

There is a connection between the peace we have and the joy we have. We cannot have verse seven without verse four. Rejoicing in the Triune personal God of Scripture makes authentic peace a possibility.

The story of God’s restoration plan impacts every area of life. God’s story began in a garden. The first humans experienced uninterrupted peace and tranquility until they chose to rebel against their good and loving Creator. From the moment of sin’s inception, humans have longed for the peace once experienced on planet earth.

The story of God is all about the restoration of broken people, systems, and things. That should bring us “joy unspeakable and full of glory/o the half that’s never yet been told”.

Yet we still live in a broken world. There are many threats to our joy. Call them joy zappers, whether they are pain, death, financial hardship, or persecution.

If you are struggling to maintain your joy today, I want to point your attention to the God of the Bible. While it may not feel like it right now, He is making all things new. That’s a promise you can build your life on. Whatever circumstance you face, you can still rejoice in the goodness and beauty of God.

Here are some suggestions for you to maintain joy IN the sorrows you face since we know we cannot avoid pain and conflict:

  1. Make soul care/ self-care a priority. Self-care looks different for each individual. For me, it means prioritizing a weekly Sabbath and time to be free from ministry and work obligations.
  2. Recognize when your emotions are more negative than positive. Don’t try to gloss over unpleasant feelings.
  3. Immerse your heart in God’s truth and presence. Read scripture (the Psalms are a great place to start). Pray scripture. Listen to worship music. (Or southern Gospel if you’re old school)
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit to restore the joy and even give you greater joy. Joy is not the absence of conflict but it is a recognition that the hardship doesn’t get the last word.

If Paul can maintain joy in prison, you and I can maintain joy in the situations we face. Can I share one more scripture with you before our time ends today?

16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, CSB

You can maintain your joy by focusing on the eternal truth of hope in Jesus our Messiah.

If you are struggling to maintain joy, you are not alone. If I can pray with you or support you in anyway, please email me.

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