Dear Friends,

My Aunt Rosie is 98 years old and counting!  For many years I have said that if you look up the word “joy” in the dictionary you will find a picture of my Aunt Rosie. She exudes joy.  She delights in her family.  She loves to party (which means being with people she loves around good food).  Her laugh will light up any room.

At her 98th Birthday party this past May she was caught on video explaining her source of joy.  She said, “I talk to the Lord every day.  I tell Him what’s on my mind and He answers me.  I just feel so blessed.”

She is living proof of what God’s word says,

Nehemiah 8:10b; Psalm 5:11a (NLT) “…the joy of the Lord is your strength…let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever.

Joy is not the same as happiness.  It is interesting to read dictionary definitions of joy.  In each case they make joy a synonym of happiness.  But the two words have very different meanings in the Scriptures.

Happiness = is from the root word “hap” which means luck.  Therefore happiness is the result of fortunate happenings.  In other words circumstances must be favorable in order to be happy.

Joy in the Scriptures has a much different meaning.  It is not a result of happenings or circumstances, but is a settled attitude.

John Piper defines joy like this,

“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”

I would define Christian joy as,

“Joy is a settled sense of wholeness or well-being.  It is soul wellness.”

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer who lived in Chicago in the 1800s.  His wife and four daughters were on board a ship headed for England when another ship struck them and over 200 people died including all four of their daughters.  His wife telegrammed the news with two word, “Saved alone.”  Spafford immediately sailed to England and when passing the very place of his daughters’ death penned these powerful words,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

MY STORY OF JOY…

It was just a few short days after my wife, Donna, had been killed.  I was still in ICU as I heard my four kids were coming to visit.  When they walked into the room I saw Graham, followed by Rick, then Sarah, Abby, and…it should have been Donna!  Instead our beloved neighbors stepped into my room.  The obvious absence of Donna sent me into deep grief.  Tears flowed down my face as my heart was breaking over her loss.

But at that same instant I was aware that I was also experiencing indescribable joy!  How can this be?  This is nonsensical.  How can I be deeply grieving and experiencing joy at the same time?  This is one of the great mysteries of our faith.  It is evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)!

Joy is something that Christians can experience in the darkest of circumstances!  That’s why James commands us,

James 1:2 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

The Apostle Paul made joy the theme of his letter to the Christians in Philippi.  In it he gave this command,

Philippians 4:4 (NIV84) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

If joy were an emotion as a result of fortunate circumstances it could not be commanded.  But joy is an element of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) therefore it can (and should) be experienced by Christians in all circumstances.

As I began to heal from my physical injuries, I had the emotional energy to more fully process my grief from Donna’s death.  Early on it seemed that the Lord surrounded me in a bubble of supernatural emotional protection.  But as time went on, the reality of Donna’s absence began to sink in and I struggled with depression.  I was given many books by well-meaning friends.   But I found the most help from two books:  1) The Bible—especially the book of Job; and 2) You Gotta Keep Dancin‘ by Tim Hansel.

Tim Hansel was a committed Christian who fell in a climbing accident resulting in cracked vertebrae, crushed discs and fragments of bone in his neck.  He lived with unrelenting, chronic, debilitating pain.  During this experience the Lord taught him the power of joy.

He learned that joy is a choice.  He said,

“In the midst of life’s hurts you can choose joy!”

“Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.”

“Our theology must become biography.”

“I believe pain and suffering can either be a prison or a prism.”

This book had a radical impact on me.  The Lord led me to read it at just the right time.  The Lord challenged me with Tim’s testimony.  The Lord encouraged me with His truth.

Psalm 30:5b (NLT) Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 126:5 (NLT) Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.

2 Corinthians 6:10a (NLT) Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.

2 Corinthians 4:8–9 (NLT) We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

How about you?  Without in any way diminishing your pain I ask you, “Will you choose joy?”

Onward joyful,

Pastor Gary