For much of this year, I've been thinking about joy. That probably sounds weird. But, it's true, nonetheless.
For many of us, it has been difficult to be joyful in the midst of a global pandemic with rampant economic calamity on top of the illness and death of people across the socioeconomic strata. Why in the world would God prod me about joy when we are going through such turmoil in adapting to a new world of face masks, social distancing, and financial uncertainty. I can’t help but say ‘Really God? Joy?’.
Why would the Holy Spirit admonish me about joy in a culture where African-Americans are forced to protest for others to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter as wayward policeman unjustly kill us and our young men are shot while jogging by narrow-minded neighbors?
All of these uncertainties affect my spirit. I want to stay energized and optimistic. But, it gets harder as this pandemic extends its reach with little end in sight.
Joy feels unwarranted when life feels so uncertain and unstable.
And, it affects our marriage.
Couples are feeling strained as even small issues are magnified into major tension—alarmingly evident in the rise of domestic violence cases. Sadly, the United Nations has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a “shadow pandemic” alongside COVID-19. Some report worldwide abuse as increasing more than 20%.
I think I know what the word means. But, I looked it up anyway, just in case there was some nuance that I was missing to explain why I should feel joyful when everything I see around me looks so dismal. Websters said, ’the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying’.
In the book of James, he writes “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
I’ve been familiar with this passage for years. But, I have never deeply personalized it. The Holy Spirit is showing me that JOY is part of the arsenal of spiritual weapons that the Apostle Paul directs us to use for spiritual battles. I never thought of JOY as a component of the spiritual warfare armament. But, now it seems so obvious. James brings the point home about the spiritual nature of JOY in telling us that difficulties (COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, Political Posturing) test our faith and develop our capacity to endure to the point of spiritual maturity (James 1:3-4).
I get it Holy Spirit. Our great delight must be a longing for spiritual maturity. Each malady we experience advances us towards a deeper experience of the Lord.
As directors of Eusebeia, we invite you to join us for the remainder of this year in a deliberate pursuit of JOY. In the book of Nehemiah (8:10), he affirms to the Hebrew people just returning from exile that “the JOY of the Lord is your strength”.
JOY as a spiritual weapon is a different type of JOY than what we feel at our baby’s first steps, graduation ceremonies, or a big promotion. Those events activate neuro-chemical pleasure centers in our brains that create a temporal high. It feels good. But, the emotion is fleeting. Spiritual JOY is more than an emotion. Spiritual JOY is an attitude to seek the Lord’s pleasure—even (or especially) in the midst of trials. JOY is worship. As theologian, John Piper writes in Desiring God, “Joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship”.
My wife and I are going to be a stronger couple as we endure 2020 with a joyfulness based on what we expect in the spiritual realm rather than what we experience in the natural realm. For each of us, this JOY emerges from our praise, worship, and trust in the Lord. JOY elevates as we raise the Lord's ways higher than our own ways and the Lord’s thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
How about you? Will you pursue to count it all JOY?
Below is a sermon titled 'Count it all joy' by the masterful pastor, Pastor John Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in the DC Metro area.