It is easy to laugh and sing when life is bright, but when we are crushed by circumstances or depression, how can we find joy-sustaining strength? In Nehemiah 8:10 the Bible says that "the joy of the Lord is your strength." But how can we find strength when we have little or no joy?
We often think of this joy as a feeling that flows from an internal source, but according to the Bible it is a position. The word that is translated "strength" in Nehemiah 8:10 literally means "place or means of safety, protection, refuge, or stronghold." God's joy is our place of refuge. Joy is found in the place where we see God. As long as we are looking through the veil of our troubles, joy will elude us. In His refuge we are surrounded with His light. Depression fades in this presence, and disappointment turns into expectation.
From this position we will be able to see life from His perspective, and this is where joy begins. The Bible says in Psalm 2:4 that God sits in the heavens and laughs at the wicked. He laughs because he knows their works are futile. They can do little more than shake their fist at God. When we are positioned with God in His refuge, we see all of life - even negative circumstances - through His triumph. We will experience His joy.
To live in the stronghold of joy, we need to join him in his laughter. I call it living above the cloud line. On an overcast day we see nothing but gray, gloomy clouds. But if we are in an airplane above the clouds, we see brilliant, unfiltered sunlight, and our troubles are nothing more than a fluffy white blanket below us. This is what it is like to live in God's place of safety. It is where we dwell with him in spirit.
Will we live in the here and now with the temporal present as our focus, or will we live with Christ in the finality of His victory?
In everyday life this can play out in many ways, but praise and thanksgiving are always key to living in God's joy. They are the wings that lift us above the cloud line and into our refuge. But entering this place of joy is not as easy as getting on a jet. We have to learn how to fly - and that takes practice and persistence.
Learning to "fly" has been a process for me. Over time I have discovered five tools for gaining altitude:
1. Worship. Worship is the first. It is essential for liftoff. It takes our eyes off of our circumstances and our powerlessness to change them, and onto the greatness and glory of God. Our despair turns into hope as we magnify His greatness and recognize that this greatness resides in us! Our powerlessness melts away as we align with His power.
Burdens are lifted off my shoulders and placed on His as I worship.
2. Praise and Thanksgiving. The burden of our prayer concerns leaves us earthbound if we don't mingle our prayer with praise and thanksgiving. In fact this is a biblical command. In Philippians 4: 4, 6-7 Paul writes, "Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!...Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." The Message
Praise is a part of the protocol of prayer. If we were to meet an important dignitary to ask a favor, we would be careful to follow proper protocol. A bow, a gift or an announced entrance might be proper. When we approach the Sovereign over all the earth, we are to "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." Psalm 100:4 Too often we run in to the throne room with our requests and run out with our worries. If we first acknowledge His kingship and honor Him with praise and thanksgiving, it will be easier to leave our worries with Him.
Prayer is designed to take the place of worry.
3. Reading and meditating on scripture. As Christians we are taught to read and meditate on scripture, but scripture is a sword and in order to use this sword we declare - and revel in - the Word. Every time I find a verse that is applicable to my life or a situation that I am praying about, I write it out as a declaration.
For instance, 2 Timothy 1:7 is a verse I love to personalize. My declaration goes something like this, "God, I praise you that you have not given me a spirit of fear. Hallelujah! No, instead you have given me a spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind. Thank you, Lord, for your Spirit of Life that is living in me!"
Praise and scripture mixed with thanksgiving are a sure recipe for joy. Over time my declarations have gone from quiet readings of the rewritten verses to confident, full-bodied proclamations. Often I find myself laughing as I belt out the Word because it fills me with the certainty of Christ's victory in and through my life.
4. Thankfulness. Learning to be thankful in every situation is also a key to joy. We are commanded to offer thanks regardless of the situation. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." ESV We can be thankful in every situation because we know that God is working for our good behind the scenes. As Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." ESV
Often we cannot see God's goodness in our difficulties, but we can still thank God for his goodness in them.
5. Visualizing God's truth. Another key to joy is found in visualizing God's truth. Too often we get caught up in what we can see with our natural eyes. To overcome this, we need to focus our attention on what can be only seen with the eyes of our heart.
First John 5:15 says that if we ask anything according to God's will, "we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” ESV Even before the answer arrives at the door, we need to start anticipating it through faith. If you have asked for healing, start picturing yourself living your life healed. We do this in our natural lives all the time. If we know that we are going on an island vacation, it is normal to imagine ourselves sunbathing on the beach and snorkeling in a reef as we look forward to it. Imagining heightens our joy and expectation. In the spiritual realm, imagining builds our faith and joy as well. We need to meditate and dwell on our promised inheritance.
Worship is a natural response to seeing Him in His glory.
Praise and thanksgiving are always the perfect response in every situation. Jesus said that with God all things are possible. In Christ we are powerful. In Christ we have victory - and the battle is not ours, but His. Our job is to confidently and joyfully rest in His finished work on the cross. We can depend on His faithfulness and make His joy our dwelling.
Elizabeth Ariel is a home schooling mom who is raising up, by God's grace, five champion warriors for His kingdom. She takes great joy in discovering God's creativity in both writing and dance. She is passionate about worship, intimacy with God, and building up believers through encouragement and servanthood.