Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Joy in Hard Times

I led the Bible study for our college and career group at church last night, and thought I'd flesh it out here for you (I didn't write anything down other than quick notes for myself, but here's the gist of what I said). In these times, everyone needs a little reflection and encouragement!

While I'm not a fan of using The Message as one's sole version of Scripture, I found it helpful to quote for you here so that you wouldn't be side-tracked by words that you are probably overly familiar with. Read the words below and see if you can recognize who wrote them, when, and for what purpose.

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!

If you can cypher through all of the modern-day language (surely the Apostle did not say that his friends "stuck with him"), you will recognize the words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians ("I thank my God every time I remember you." Is that a little more familiar?)

Here's the whole section from the NIV:
I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-8

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was in prison for preaching God's word. Knowing this, there are some key words and thoughts in the first few verses that stick out to me.

Right from the beginning, Paul says that he prays with joy. How is someone who is in prison able to pray with joy? The first emotions I think I would be praying with would be sorrow or desperation that the Lord would deliver me. But Paul finds joy in praying for others--not even himself. Later on in Philippians, Paul tells his friends "but I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel." Philippians 1:12

The way that Paul can find true joy in the midst of such difficult circumstances is a demonstration of his Christ-founded peace.

Oh, that I had that peace!

Everywhere you turn today, someone is talking about the economy. It makes headlines in the news every day, you hear people mention the hard times as you pass by, and as the recession continues, it's not something you just hear about--it's affecting everyone.

Jobs, sales, morale, so many things are hurting. In the midst of it all, with no prospective immediate rebound, where do we find joy?

The Bible is full of examples of people who trusted in God yet still saw great suffering. There's your classic Job figure, but let's go past him and think of others whose sufferings are more like our own.

There was Daniel, who was punished for obeying God's authority instead of the government. He was thrown into a den of lions, and when his friend, King Darius returned to the den in the morning, he found Daniel on his knees praising the Lord.

There was Hannah, the beloved wife of Elkanah, who was unable to have children. She prayed to the Lord and promised that if He would give her a son, she would return him to God when he was of age. She raised him and took him to the temple when he was old enough and put him in the care of Eli, the priest, where he continued to serve God.

Joseph suffered for many years after being betrayed by his brothers, but he didn't turn any of it to evil. He befriended one of the Pharoah's officials, became his right-hand man, and soon held one of the most influential positions in Egypt. When a great famine hit the Canaan, Joseph's brothers came to the city to buy food. Joseph recognized them, and instead of punishing them as he had the power to do, he forgave them and invited the whole family to move to Egypt to escape the famine.

Then there was David. Although at first I could only think of the suffering he had as direct result of disobeying God, I was reminded of his suffering while he was in Saul's pursuit. Many of the Psalms depict the true turmoil that David was in, yet he trusted in God to protect him from his enemies.

I won't type it all out here, but these are the verses I had the group turn to to get a better picture of putting our joy and hope in the Lord in the midst of strife:

Psalm 16 (The hope of the faithful)
Psalm 34 (Happiness of those who trust)
Psalm 40 (Faith persevering in trial)
Psalm 71 (God is my hope)
John 15:9-17 (Love and joy perfected)
Philippians 1:12 (Suffering -->furtherance of the Gospel)
1 Peter 3:13-17 (Joy and suffering for righteousness' sake-->model godly behavior)

Lastly, I want to share with you an excerpt from "Devotions for Renewal and Joy" by Warren W. Wiersbe:

The world talks about happiness, but God talks about joy. There is a difference, and when you learn what that difference is, your life will be different.

Happiness depends on happenings, what goes on around you. When your plans work out right, when you feel good, when problems are at a minimum, then you're happy. But
when you wake up with a headache or the boss rearranges your schedule or somebody
you love is hurting, then that happiness fades, and you’re left feeling discouraged and defeated. You feel like quitting.

But life doesn’t have to be that way. You can substitute joy for happiness and experience a whole new kind of life.

Joy doesn’t depend on what goes on around you. It depends on what goes on within you.
It is the result of a right relationship with God, a right attitude toward life, and a right faith in the power of Christ. Happiness says, “I am the captain of my fate!” and courts disaster. Joys says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Php 4:13) and marches to victory.

Paul didn’t write the epistle to the Philippians from a comfortable library or an ivory tower. When he wrote it, he was a prisoner in Rome and in danger of being executed any day. Yet this letter is saturated with joy and rejoicing. Why? Because Paul was a man who knew Christ; he was a single-minded man with a mission to fulfill and a God to serve.

Outlook helps to determine outcome, and in this letter, Paul tells you how to have the kind of outlook that produces joy. He shares the “open secret” of having joy in spite of circumstances, people, things or situations. He explains the basic principles of Christian experience that can turn your life into a daily celebration of the joy of the Lord.

Yes, you will still
have problems and battles and burdens, but you will find yourself overcoming instead of being overcome.

You will find yourself joyfully saying with Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”


  1. It's wonderful to have your own child grow up to be someone whose wisdom you can benefit from. That was beautiful, my dear, and I'm thankful that the Lord is using you to bless others.


Your sweet comments make my day! Thank you for coming to visit ♥