In the darkest time of my life, I was so upset and angry I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. In the night, I would lay down, but I couldn’t sleep. As tears rolled down my face, i began to sing a couple of songs I learned as a kid. The first one was “The Joy of the Lord is My Strength,” and the other one was “Rejoice in the Lord Always”. As depression and bitterness we’re trying to make theirselves at home in my mind, I could only combat them with these songs. I knew that I was in a bad situation and that adding in those two things would make things worse. I tried to remember that God knew what I was going through, even if He wasn’t stopping it, and that joy would give me strength to endure anything.
When I was younger, someone once told me that there’s a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances so it comes and goes based on my condition. Joy is internal and not based on any external situation. It comes from understanding that no matter what my condition is, I’m still loved by Jesus and there is nothing that can separate me from it. When you learn to look at your life through the lens of Jesus’ love rather than your cure circumstances, you learn to have a joy that gives you strength no matter what you’re going through.
Psalm 31:7 says, “I will be glad and rejoice because of your constant love. You see my suffering; you know my trouble” (GNT”. God is very much aware of your pain, your suffering, your stressful situation or whatever you’re facing and He knows how to work it our for your good. Even though you can’t see how anything good can come from it, keep trusting in His plan and resting in His love. Let joy spring up from within you and turn the ashes of what was your life and what could have been into fertile soil for God to do something new and unexpected. His joy will strengthen you and His love will sustain you through whatever comes your way. Keep trusting in His plan.
Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash
When I was little, my mom said, “Don’t touch that. It’s hot.” What did I do? I touched it and got burned. When I got a little older, she said, “Don’t eat mushrooms in the back yard.” What did I do? I fed them to my younger brother and I got spanked. A few years later, she said, “Don’t talk that way.” What did I do? I said a few choice words and got my mouth washed out with a Ivory soap. Each time I disobeyed, I suffered the consequences of those actions whether it was through her punishment or the physical result of disobedience.
In the Garden of Eden, God said, “Don’t eat of that tree in the middle.” What did they do? They ate from the tree and were kicked out of the garden. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments. What have we done since? We’ve broken them and suffered the consequences. In my own life, I’ve known what God has said, and I’ve lived in violation of the way He has said to live and I’ve suffered the consequences.
Several years ago, while suffering with the consequences of my choices, God was using them to try to bring me back into right relationship with Him. The more I pushed back, the more it seemed I suffered. I eventually surrendered, but had to live with the consequences. The pain of that time has been a constant reminder to me to follow God’s will and plan. Do I do it all the time? No. I still disobey at times, but those times are getting fewer and I’m learning to repent faster.
All of us face the consequences of our sins. It’s designed to help us remember to obey much like my punishments when I was younger. Psalm 119:71 says, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (NLT). We don’t like the suffering from our consequences, but it helps us remember in the future to walk in obedience to what God says. God sets life and death before us. Oh that we would obey His Word and choose life. It’s a much less painful route.
People draw their strength from many things. In sports, you’ll often hear of a team who had a big comeback to win. They will draw on that later in the season and it will give them strength to keep trying the next time they’re down. In business, many companies draw their strength from how much they have in the bank. If a company invests in themselves and their future along with a big bank account, we would say that’s a strong company.
For us, there’s inner strength and outer strength. Outer strength comes from lifting weights and exercising. Inner strength is much different. You can be strong on the outside, but weak on the inside. You can’t exercise anything to become strong on the inside. When adversity comes, many people tend to worry and become anxious. Some just try to weather the storm. Those with an inner strength seem to be able to handle anything though.
When my life was flipped upside down and the storm wouldn’t seem to quit, I remember just trying to make it through each minute. I thought if I could survive that minute, I could survive the storm. As I lay in bed one night, I remembered a song from my childhood. I began to sing softly, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I sang it over and over. I was reminding myself that on my own, I didn’t have the strength to survive, but through God’s strength I did.
As I read Psalm 84:5, I think about those long, sleepless nights. The Psalmist wrote, “What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord” (NLT). He knew that you can find joy in the midst of your pain and suffering if you find your strength in God. That strength comes first by handing Him your problem. Admiring you can’t do it on your own is the first step. When we give it to Him, the sufficiency of His grace washes over our life and we find strength in Him.
From my experience, the storm will not end when you do that. What changes is how you see the storm and how you respond to it. God can give you His joy in the midst of sorrow. He can give you the strength to walk on water even when the storm rages if we keep our eyes on Him. The strength of the Lord will not fail you in your time of need. It’s something you can rely on over and over no matter how bad things get. Don’t try to go through your storm alone. Find your strength in the Lord and let Him provide you with the shelter you need.
I don’t know if there’s a Christian alive who hasn’t gone through a difficult time and wondered why people who are outright evil don’t appear to be suffering. You try to do everything God asks and follow all the rules, yet there is someone in your life living in outright rebellion to God and nothing ever happens to them. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. Why should the godly suffer when we are the ones who try to do right? Shouldn’t God bless us because we are his followers and curse them?
I’ve been caught in that trap before. I’ve questioned God’s decision to allow me to suffer while others enjoy life’s greatest blessings. At times, I’ve felt like my life was worse than Job’s. In the midst of my suffering, I’ve wondered if anyone ever had it as bad as me. I allowed myself to wallow in self pity. It didn’t get Job anywhere, and it certainly didn’t get me anywhere. God didn’t even seem to notice my pity party. I thought, “Maybe I should just live how I want since living right hasn’t gotten me anything except this pain.”
When we act on those thoughts, we fail the test God has given us. I’ve found that God only tests those worthy of taking it. Everything Job went through was a test to prove that he wasn’t righteous only because of his blessings. God was showing that his faith didn’t rely on his health or possessions. It relied on his trust in God even when God was silent during the test. It relied on who He had found God to be in the good times. It didn’t get distracted in the storm.
True faith gets tested. True faith trusts God even when we can’t see Him or feel Him. It’s understandable that we want to compare ourselves to others who aren’t living right, but we are to trust in God no matter what. Psalm 40:4 says, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (NIV). We are blessed when we can keep our eyes on God in the midst of chaos. We pass the test when our trust in God outweighs our circumstances. We need to realize God is testing us because we are worthy of being tested.
My wife made some comments last night about how the book of Judges ended. I decided to open it up and read there today because it has been a while since I’ve dug through that book. I started in chapter 20 and found something I know I’ve read before, but now have a new perspective on. The story she was referring to was there. An Israelite had been traveling through the country and was in Benjamin’s territory. The men of the city came to them, raped his wife and killed her. He let the other 11 tribes know what happened and they came to his defense.
When the city and tribe of Benjamin wouldn’t give up the men who did this, the other 11 tribes sent word for their armies to come to the city to deal with it. Around 400,000 warriors showed up. They prayed and asked God which tribe should be out front in the attack. God responded with Judah. They went to attack and lost. They came back to God and asked, “Should we attack them again?” God replied, “Yes! Attack them.”
The next day, they went to battle again and got whipped. They came back weeping and crying. They fasted the rest of the day and asked God one more time if they should attack or should they call it quits. God said, “Attack! Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.” They went out the next day just as before. The army of Benjamin came out full force to attack, but this time was different. The army of the 11 tribes was victorious to the point they almost wiped out the entire tribe of Benjamin.
What I saw was that God gave them the go ahead to go into battle and they lost. Twice. They were in the will of God, there was no sin in the camp and they still lost. They didn’t just lose. They were humiliated. Their army of 400,000 was beaten twice by an army of less than 30,000. Plus, they had God on their side telling them to attack and to go into battle. When they went to God each night, He didn’t give them a reason that they lost. He just told them to go attack again. I’m sure their faith was shaken by the third day when they approached the battlefield.
Just because we’re in God’s will it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer loss. Even if we have God’s exact words to do something, we may not get the result we thought we were going to get. He may not tell us why we are suffering in the place He told us to go. We may feel humiliated about our circumstances and wonder what other people are saying. Doubt can come in and say, “Are you sure you heard God? Why did God bring me to this place just to let me be defeated?” Guard your mind against those thoughts and do what the army did each night.
They returned to the presence of God day after day. They continued to listen to His voice. They still followed His directions even though it had meant loss before. They also entered into a fast to ask for His favor. Then God said, “Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.” I don’t know when your “tomorrow” is, but I do know if you’ll keep trusting and obeying what God says, tomorrow will come. Victory will be yours. This time of loss will end and you will once again be restored and bring restoration to others.