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Joy in Suffering

  • Joni Eareckson Tada Religion News Service
  • Published Nov 09, 2016
Joy in Suffering

As a quadriplegic, there are many mornings I wake up fighting off discouragement – I can easily grieve the loss of use of my arms and legs, and my daily struggle with pain.  It’s why I so resonate with Nehemiah who had words of encouragement when sadness and regret hung heavy in the air.  This remarkable prophet told God’s people in Nehemiah 8:10, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” What did he mean by that? What is this “joy of the Lord”—and how do I find it?

Years of traveling the hard and difficult path of life have taught me that joy has absolutely no connection to my current circumstances or yours. God's joy doesn’t depend on your emotional makeup, or the mood you woke up in this morning. It isn’t your joy at all; you can’t manufacture it, drum it up, or visualize it into existence. It’s because this joy belongs to God. And He wants you to have it! He offers it as a gift of His Holy Spirit. He wants you to walk in it today and experience it to the full. How do you obtain it? You ask for it and then open your life to receive it.

By faith, I take joy in all that really matters most—a heavenly Father who loves me, a Lord who is both Brother and Friend, and a Holy Spirit who is my Comforter, Counselor, and the Source of a joy so much deeper and sweeter than my own.

When someone holds on to joy in spite of everything, I call that “defiant joy.” A person with defiant joy refuses to be squelched by negative voices or intimidated by overwhelming odds. In Jesus, we have the greatest example anyone could imagine. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “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.”

The joy born out of suffering is unflinching in the face of discouragement; it is unshakable when your pain screams at you to choose doubt and fear. Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is far more durable, rigorous, and rugged than most of us realize. So when you pick up your cross every day, do so without wavering. Because as you do, you’ll also be choosing joy.

The apostle Paul knew how to be joyful. This is the man who wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” But he also confessed to “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” over the spiritual lost-ness of his Jewish race. He described Christ’s apostles as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” in 2 Corinthians 6:10.  James advised us to “grieve, mourn and wail” when we sin and break fellowship with Jesus (James 4:9).

The fact is, sorrow, tears, and disappointment are written into God’s plan for us. Yes, He lightens and brightens our days with glimpses of paradise; He gives foretastes of the great joys to come through a thousand blessings, large and small. But we’re not in heaven yet. And on this side of life, we—along with everyone else—will experience a measure of sorrow. When those sad times come, however, we turn our gaze to Jesus—remembering that He carried our sorrows on the cross and will certainly walk with us through all of our troubles. And we can look beyond today’s pain to see heaven on the horizon.

I chose God's joy every morning during my recent battle against stage III breast cancer. Chemotherapy was no picnic. One day when my husband, Ken, was driving me home from the chemo clinic, we discussed how sufferings are “splash-overs of hell”—gritty, gut-wrenching reminders of the horrors Christ rescued us from. As Ken pulled into our driveway, we then wondered, “What are splash-overs of heaven? Are they easy, bright times when everything’s going right?” After a long silence, Ken looked at me and with wet eyes whispered, “No, Joni. It’s when we see Jesus in our splash-over of hell.”

For reasons known only to himself, the Father calls us to intimacy with His Son on His terms—and those terms call for us to suffer, in some measure, as His Son did while He was on earth. Yes, suffering may seem like a high price to pay for having Christ as a confidant. But He is ecstasy beyond words. It’s worth anything to be His friend.

*Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, and an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families, as well as training to churches.

**Taken from A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through me Every Day, Copyright © 2016, Use by permission of Zondervan.

***Published 11/9/2016