Good News of Great Joy Relying on the happiness of God
Robin Weidner, December 2009
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:9
Last year for Christmas, I asked my husband to replace my white, warped second-hand bookshelf by my reading chair in our bedroom with a newer model that would hold more books (and perhaps even match our furniture). On Christmas morning, my husband proudly unveiled a beautiful black bookshelf neatly bearing all my treasured volumes.
On one shelf, I have a line of books I go back to again and again. And some of the ones I go to most often have to do with suffering. But more specifically, they talk about how to trust God through our pain, something I need continual help wrapping my heart around.
Some of my most favorite writings on this topic come from Joni Eareckson Tada. Part of that may be because Joni speaks from the perspective of someone who has spent the last 40 years paralyzed, without the use of her arms or legs. (Joni takes away all my excuses!) But even more than her disability, it’s because her writings resonate with deep vulnerability and resounding joy.
In an essay she contributed to the powerful book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Joni talks about a friend who came over one morning to help. As her friend moved around Joni’s kitchen cheerfully brewing coffee, Joni was faced with a test. Everything within her didn’t want to be disabled, didn’t want to get up, didn’t think she could find a shred of joy for her friend or the day.
Her prayer to God in that moment gives a beautiful way to approach our painful moments…
“God I cannot do this… I can’t do quadriplegia, but I can do all things through you as you strengthen me [Phil. 4:13]. I have no smile for this woman who’s going to walk into my bedroom in a moment…. O God, please may I borrow your smile?”
Borrowing God’s joy
Now we all know that joy and God are supposed to go together, right? Perhaps you’ve sung the children’s song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” And at Christmas time, we often sing along with our CD players, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” And the Bible has hundreds of scriptures encouraging us to rejoice in everything from God to trials and persecution.
But as much as we desire joy and even may feel guilty when we lack it (especially if well-meaning friends try to inspire us by comparing us to Scrooge!), joy can be a slippery target. Personally, I find I can have a day bursting with joy, and the very next day feel like I’m standing on the edge of pit, struggling not to slide over the edge into a dark place!
Just recently, I had one of those too close to the pits days. I couldn’t work, couldn’t think, and couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. I took off to a second-hand store near my house where they have a section of books, including one shelf of Christian books.
Through God’s providence, I found 365 Days of Hope—Encouragement for Those Facing Loss, Pain and Disappointment. One of the co-authors? You guessed it. Joni. Walking out of the thrift store with my $2.00 treasure, I grasped it to my chest in hope that it would speak to my soul.
Later on, cuddled up in my reading chair with a cup of hot tea, I listened with my heart as Joni explained how in 1 Timothy 1:11 Paul calls God “blessed,” a synonym for happy. Joni went on to say…
“Scholars use the word blissful for blessed. Exultant and joyous, radiant and rapturous. God is not a threatened, pacing deity starved for attention. He is not easily angered, touchy, or out of sorts on bad days… Rather he is the exultant and rapturously happy God.”
In Joni’s way of thinking, this is huge for those of us whose hearts are in deep distress. God is our “joyful foundation, a blissful rock, a happy fortress.” As I read, I remembered what Joni had said about borrowing a smile from God. And I thought… Now I understand even more so how Joni finds her joy. It is on loan from God himself.
But, you might ask, “How does God lend us His joy?” Well, he’s already done it. This time of year bears witness to how God came to earth in the form of a baby, humbly born in a manger. With the angels of Heaven singing, God loaned us his joy, his son Jesus—joy incarnate.
By the time Jesus began his ministry, I feel sure that he literally oozed joy. Why else would the tax collectors and sinners clamor to have him in their homes? How else could he fulfill his mission of not only proclaiming, but demonstrating “the year of the Lord’s favor” to those who had felt spirituality was outside of their grasp (Luke 4:19).
When Jesus left his disciples to ascend to the right hand of God, what was the evidence of the spirit’s work continuing? In spite of severe suffering, they imitated Jesus by welcoming the message with joy—a joy poured into their hearts through his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Walking in the joy of Jesus
Here’s the catch. Joy doesn’t always come naturally. Since joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, perhaps that gives us a heads up that it’s not found in the flesh. And the many scriptures that align joy with suffering tell us that joy certainly doesn’t always come easy.
Yet it strikes me that with the Christmas season, we have a unique opportunity to borrow the joy of Jesus himself and gift it to those around us. And this is so very encouraging because Jesus’ joy didn’t depend on gifts, possessions, health or financial security.
Just take a read through one of the gospels and you’ll find that Jesus’ joy really boiled down to three simple things…
Jesus found joy in people.
Jesus found joy in giving.
Jesus found joy in his Father.
These are joys all of us can afford and none of them depend on circumstances. And it is so encouraging to my soul to know that even for Jesus, sometimes finding this kind of joy required loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7).
On a more practical level, how can I follow this example? Here’s what I’m thinking…
When I hit those times where grief rolls over me, or the stress of work or even the busy-ness of the holidays starts stealing my joy, I can refuse to listen to Satan’s whispers that I’m not spiritual enough, or not good enough. Instead, I can simply say to God…
“God, I can’t do this, this grief, or this anxiety, or this loneliness, or this situation with someone I love. Can I please borrow the joy of Jesus for today? Can you give me a small loan on my inheritance of joy? Please, fan into flame the joy of the spirit you’ve placed within me!”
The amazing thing is that as Jesus lends me his joy, I have more than enough joy to share with others. And in this joy, I find perspective and hope…
“May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope.” Romans 15:13 (Amplified)
We can persevere in our struggle for joy, because we have hope that one day in Heaven, as one of the redeemed ones of the Lord, we’ll each possess a joy that will never, ever have to be borrowed. Every moment of every day will be a celebration of unwavering, unadulterated, unending joy.
And as we trust God to give us this joy, now through his spirit and later as our inheritance, we come one step closer to true security of heart.
What has been my level of joy this holiday season? How has Satan attempted to steal my joy? In what areas do I need to borrow some joy from God?
Listen to God’s voice:
“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17
Consider the three areas in which Jesus found his joy. How does Satan try to steal your joy in these areas? How can you follow Jesus’ example and find joy in each of these areas over the next few weeks? Write out your responses for each:
Jesus found joy in people.
Jesus found joy in giving.
Jesus found joy in his Father.
Read Isaiah 35:6-7 and Revelation 21:1-4. Close your eyes and meditate on these pictures of heaven. Imagine all your hardships and insecurities pass away as you delight in God’s presence. What do you see? How do you feel?