“I’ve had no peace or joy for the past 18 months,” my friend said. “I can’t focus on anything but the pain.” As a ministry leader and certified mental health coach, I hear comments like this often. Life is hard—we are all struggling with something—so it is both understandable and normal to have moments of despair. The difference between believers and the rest of the world is that we are equipped with divine weapons (e.g. the sword of the Spirit, prayer) to ward off feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, unworthiness, and fear (Ephesians 6:10-18).
When we fail to use them and focus on our struggles, we lose our footing, and we fall. To become victors in Christ instead of victims of circumstance, we must stand firmly on the promises of God.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)
True Joy & Focus
True joy is about where we place our focus, which is why Paul could rejoice while in pain and imprisoned (Philippians 4:4) and David praised God and rejoiced while fleeing from Saul (Psalm 34). Instead of focusing on his situation, Paul rejoices because the Gospel was still being preached, bringing salvation and eternal glory in Christ to those God had chosen (2 Timothy 2:10). David finds joy in knowing God hears his prayers and will deliver him from fear.
In times of pain and suffering, when it’s difficult to feel joy, we must consciously choose where we place our attention. This includes our thoughts and beliefs, what we watch and listen to, and the people with whom we surround ourselves. When we focus on God’s promises and fix our eyes on Christ, instead of our problems, our perspective shifts. “We will not grow weary and lose heart”.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)
We learn to express gratitude for God’s blessings in the midst of our pain while waiting expectantly for what’s to come. Another way to say this might be:
Joy comes from trusting what awaits us will be worth it while watching for the ways God is working right now.
Let’s break this down and examine how trust, expectancy, awareness, and praise lead to joy!
Joy Comes From Trusting
When we find ourselves in a pit of despair, it’s a sign we’ve forgotten God’s promises. When this happens, we need to go back to the scriptures and meditate on what is true:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13 (NIV)
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy.Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 (NIV)
These verses show when we trust the Lord will restore us, spend time in His presence, and believe His promise to work all things for our good, we can endure hardship and experience joy.
If you’re struggling to trust God, be honest and tell Him. He already knows, so your thoughts won’t come as a surprise, but they will draw you closer to God and into prayer. Like the man in Mark 9:24, we can ask the Lord to help our unbelief—to help us have more faith. This shows that we want to grow and, most importantly, we want to know Him. As your relationship with God strengthens, so too will your trust in Him and His promises.
Other ways to build trust include reflecting on ways God has been faithful in the past; finding Biblical examples of people who went through tough times, but God redeemed their pain, and placing our suffering within the context of a larger story—one that ends in healing, wholeness, and complete victory in Christ.
What Awaits Us Will Be Worth It
In the words of Timothy Keller, “While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” If Jesus could endure the cross knowing the joy set before Him—the salvation of humanity—would be worth it, then we too can endure hardship. After all, His power lives in us and is perfected in our weakness.
When it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can wait with holy expectancy. This is why James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). In Romans 5:3-4, Paul adds that, in addition to producing perseverance, suffering develops Christlike character and anchors our hope to God—the author and Source of hope.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.James 1:2-3 (NIV)
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Adopting an eternal perspective on suffering enables us to focus on the long-term benefits. Suffering humbles us so God can be exalted, and He can use us to make a greater impact for His Kingdom. Suffering purifies us, weaning us from worldly things. Suffering brings us into closer communion with God as we surrender to His will, receive His all-sufficient grace, and allow His power to work through us in ways we never could have imagined.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
Jesus doesn’t expect us to have joy in response to the trials themselves, but in knowing the outcome. Just as women endure the pain of childbirth because they know the joy of motherhood lies on the other side, we can experience joy in difficult times because we know eternal life with Jesus exists on the other side.
While Watching For The Ways
Waiting for God’s promises to come to fruition can feel like forever. A good illustration of this can be found in the story of Hannah and Samuel (Samuel 1:2-2:21). For years Hannah tried to conceive but remained childless. However, she didn’t give up—she kept praying for a son, crying out to God, and expressing her pain and frustration. One day, when Hannah was well past childbearing age, she conceived. She didn’t allow God’s silence to crush her hope—she persevered through worship and prayer while cultivating patient endurance.
Like Hannah, we can choose to never stop praying. We can ask God to help us live with a keen awareness of His presence and continue to praise Him in the storm. As you wait, do not mistake God’s patience for His absence. His timing is perfect, and His presence is constant, and He’s always with you.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
One practice that has helped me wait well is writing. Through regularly writing on my website, I have a record of ways God has moved and guided me toward where He wants me to go. Through sharing God’s provision, He has connected me with others who want to know, love, and serve Him. The process of writing itself also cultivates patience in the sheer amount of time it takes to research, write, rewrite, edit, and publish a single blog post, shattering my expectations for productivity. Writing is one of the most powerful ways God has worked in me and helped me hold on to hope in the wait. What has helped you wait well and trust that God is using the passing of time to sanctify and prepare you for what’s to come?
God is Working Right Now
In a recent interview on the She Chose Hope Podcast, I joined my friend, Cassidy Poe, to talk about the role of suffering in the Christian walk. In our conversation, I talked about finding joy in the hope of what’s to come. Cassidy responded by pointing out how, while this is true, we can live joyfully now!
She explained how suffering brought her into community so she could invite others into her journey and feel less alone. Suffering also enabled her to share in the sufferings of others with greater empathy and compassion, helping them move forward toward healing. Both things brought joy. God has used our pain to encourage others, inspire them to grow in their faith, and point them toward answers.
While we think we need answers to find joy and peace, Cassidy and I discovered what we really need is God. In her words, “When He gives us more of Himself, that is where our deepest pleasure is found.” Joy, peace, and pleasure can be found in our most difficult circumstances because God is there!
If you are seeking joy today, meditate on 1 John 1:3-4, written by Jesus’ beloved disciple:
We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.1 John 1:3-4 (NLT)
John is saying that fullness of joy is found through fellowship with Jesus. It is centered on Christ, not our circumstances. Regardless of what “cross” we are carrying or what lies before us, our joy can’t be stolen because it is found in the presence of our Savior. Nothing and nobody can take it away.