Have you ever been through a season of life where it was…you know…difficult? I mean, not ‘I spilled my coffee this morning’ difficult, or ‘I didn’t get to watch Netflix tonight’ difficult, or ‘I don’t like what I have to wear cause it’s not cute’ difficult. I’m talking about the season that you might identify as a “cross carrying” time of your life. A very difficult relationship you are working through, hardship in finances to the point of not knowing how the month will happen, challenges with children that seem to be 24/7, staring a sin pattern in the face and fighting/clawing/scratching to overcome, or maybe it was because you felt distant from God and felt like your prayers and songs where bouncing off the ceiling and nailing you back in the face? Maybe I’m the only one, but I’ll keep writing for the fun of it.
For me, one of those seasons was during my sophomore year of college as a 20-year-old. I felt distant from God, relationships where a challenge, dreams seemed to be unraveling like a blown out tire, and my thought life was a nightmare of judgmental, impure, and hateful thoughts I was fighting against all day. I had a friend come give me “prophetic word” during that time, he said, “I have this mental image of a young calf caught in a barbed wire fence and the more it tried to get free the more tangled it became. I don’t know what that means but thought I should share with you.” Thanks dude, I definitely know how that poor little calf feels.
How do I get out of this funk?
I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Trying harder was not working. It was in that time I happened to come across a teaching from Mike Bickle. I’m sure the whole teaching was great, but I only remembered one line that went something like this, “God is not mostly mad or sad, He’s mostly GLAD.” That phrase nailed me. Hard. God was speaking something deep to me in those words, something that would change my life. I began to dig into that idea in the Scriptures, and discovered that the “Joy of the Lord” was actually a thing, not just some cheesy saying. So if you are in a difficult time, or have been, or remotely think you might someday, I offer this to you.
“The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
That verse is on coffee mugs across America and I had seen it before, but never really let it sink in. Subconsciously, I often misread it too. I read it more like “your joy in the LORD is your strength”. It doesn’t say that. It has nothing to do actually with my joy, yet. It is talking about His joy. His JOY is my STRENGTH. The joy that God has in his heart is strength to me. God’s joy is your strength. His joy is a big deal. If we don’t have a revelation of the JOY of God and a habit of meditating on and receiving that reality, I think it could be said that we will lack strength. And you and I need strength for the difficulties of the journey.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…who for the JOY set before him endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:1,2
This Scripture says two profound things I’d like to point out. 1) That Jesus would not have endured the cross and finished the task of redemption without joy motivating him, and 2) that we should LOOK TO (literally stare at and think about and meditate upon) Jesus, specifically looking to the reality of His joy.
We become what we behold (2 Cor. 3:18). As we LOOK TO Jesus, we become more like him. As we meditate upon, stare at, think about, the joy of our LORD…something powerful happens, something begins to shift in our hearts, strength begins to well up. The kind of strength that causes people to carry heavy crosses and endure great challenges and overcome in the battles they are fighting. Therefore, let us learn to meditate upon the joy of God regularly. To help you “look to Jesus”, I’ve pulled out a few Scriptures that highlight His joy. Maybe you can take one each day this week and meditate on it for a few minutes. Here you go:
Jesus’ joy is eternal and indestructible.
“The LORD fathered me at the beginning of his way, the first of his acts of old…then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always” (Proverbs 8:22,30). From the very beginning of eternity, before the creation, Jesus was at the Father’s side always rejoicing, full of eternal, indestructible, unfading joy. “Now after a long time the master (Jesus) of those servants came and settled accounts with them…[He] said to them, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy or your master.’” (Matthew 25:19,21). At the end of time, Jesus will stand full of eternal, indestructible, unfading joy. He’s full of joy at the beginning and full of joy at the end. Eternal joy.
Jesus’ joy is greater in measure & intensity than any others’.
“But of the Son he says…You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore, God has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Hebrews 1:9). Jesus had more joy than any other person to ever live on earth. His joy is greater in measure (quantity) than any other person’s joy and his joy is greater in intensity (quality) than any other person’s joy. Jesus Christ is simply the gladdest human being in the universe. Always has been and always will be.
Jesus can’t contain his joy.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17). This Scripture was an Old Testament prophecy that is now a New Testament reality. Jesus is in our midst (now by the Holy Spirit, soon he will be bodily) and he can’t contain his joy! The Greek word for “exult” is giyl which means “to spin around under the influence of a violent emotion”. God is in our midst singing over us, spinning around under the influence of violently wild joy over us that he can’t contain.
Jesus has great joy in the salvation and restoration of humanity.
“For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). “Rejoice with me, for I have found [what] I had lost. Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:9,10). It is not his great burden to save and heal. It is not a bother to him. He didn’t ‘have to’. It is his GREAT JOY. He chose to die to save us. He chooses to save and heal and restore. Jesus is constantly inviting all of creation (heaven and earth) to “rejoice with him” as lives are saved from darkness and healed. The angels have a front row seat…before them they watch the joy of Jesus consistently on display. King David prayed “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” (Psalm 51:12). Notice it’s not “the joy of my salvation”. He’s asking for a revelation of God’s joy in saving him, not a revelation of his joy in being saved.
Jesus’ joy is in us.
Jesus does not increase our joy to its final limit, he gives us His joy (limitless and indestructible). He fulfills His joy in us! Don’t try to manufacture your own joy, receive His. Listen to these very clear statements from Jesus:
- “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
- “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)
- “Father, but now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13)
Back to my story…as a stuck 20 year old…I began to meditate upon these truths daily. I prayed them, read them, thought about them, sang them, declared them, and took up Jesus’ invitation to ask him for HIS JOY instead of manufacturing my own. The result? The heaviness lifted, my soul was filled with strength, my mind was renewed, and I seriously have never been the same. I’m confident God will do the same in you as you look to Jesus and meditate upon his joy.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)