You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand, there are pleasures evermore.–Ps. 16:11
One Sunday morning in January 2002, our small group leader posed a challenge to all of us in his class at our church: Ask Jesus to give you a verse for the new year so that by December, you will have lived that verse. The goal was that for the rest of our days, that Scripture would not just be words on a page to us; but those words would be written forever on our hearts by the nail-scarred hand of our Savior.
That year was absolutely life-changing for me in so many ways. As a result, I have asked Jesus for the same gift every December. I then begin to keep my eyes and ears open and without fail, He begins to give me the same Scripture over and over again from a variety of sources. By December 31st, I have my verse and my theme for the upcoming year.
Imagine my delight when He disclosed the theme for 2009: JOY! My Scripture was Ps. 16:11 and I was ready for what would surely be an amazing year! And it was.
However, not at all in the ways I had imagined.
I’ll never forget the day I excitedly told Doug that the theme Jesus had given to me for 2009 was joy. Rather than being as thrilled as I was—because he is a very wise man—he looked slightly green around the gills and tried to summon a faint smile. You see, he knew what I was conveniently overlooking: Jesus doesn’t have to teach you about joy when life is rosy.
Suffice it to say, life didn’t stay rosy for long; trials hit and they hit hard. Among other things, my husband’s job was cut and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was my invitation from Jesus to go deeper into relationship with Him…to take a journey into a joy that I had never known prior to that season.
Joy is NOT happiness. Happiness is dependent on favorable circumstances. Joy is a supernatural gift from heaven that can blaze strong and shine bright in spite of circumstances. “Joy (can) express itself in laughter and elation, yet it draws from a deep spring that keeps flowing long after the laughter has died and the tears have come.” —Sherwood Wirt.
Jesus is the personification of Joy. He IS joy. He is the Source of Joy. Hebrews 1:9 boldly declares this about Jesus: “God has anointed You with the oil of exultant joy and gladness above and beyond Your companions.”
In his book, In The Footsteps of Jesus, author Bruce Marchiano writes: “Yes, Jesus smiled; yes, Jesus laughed. Jesus smiled wider and laughed heartier than any human being who has ever walked the planet. He was young. He radiated good cheer. The real Jesus was a man of such merriment, such gladness of heart, such freedom and openness, that He proved irresistable. He became known among Galilee for His genuine strength, the sparkle in His eyes, the spring in His gait, the heartiness in His laugh, the genuineness of His touch, His passion, playfulness, excitement and vitality: His JOY! He made a dazzling display of love. He set hearts on fire. He was an elated, triumphant young man with an incredible quality of life…so different from the solemn religious types He constantly encountered.”
Yet, Jesus Christ suffered more than anyone ever has or will on this planet. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah. 53:3). However, that immense suffering never affected his joy. That blazing, divine joy remained abundant and overflowing, even as He went to the cross.
As the difficult season unfolded, I clung to Ps. 16:11. It said that He would show me the path of life. He knows exactly what is on that path and where it leads. Sometimes that path has some painful detours, but my joy need not ever be affected. Why? Because 16:11 tells me that “in His Presence is fullness of joy.” His Presence never leaves me; so His joy is always available.
But I have to choose it.
As Henri Nouwen once said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday.”
Choosing joy became my lifeline…especially when fear filled my heart and threatened to overwhelm me. I clung to the promises in God’s Word with all my strength. I learned to live within today’s parameters and to focus on my many blessings, rather than what I lacked. I learned to trust my Savior’s inexhaustible provision. I learned that Jesus is ENOUGH.
The joy of the Lord truly became my strength…even when the storms grew in frightening intensity. Yet…to my great delight, I found that the joy of Jesus was…and is… always stronger than the storm.
At the end of 2009, my dear friend Penny made me a wonderful gift that I will always treasure:
This is the first thing I see when the day begins. It is a physical reminder of the intangible yet very real gift of joy.
Joy always triumphs.