When I was young, I thought that following God and being a Christian would lead to a life that was kind of easy, filled only with happiness and free from pain and sorrow. Silly me. I’m not even sure where I got that idea, except maybe from teachings spouted by TV evangelists who espoused a prosperity “name it and claim it” doctrine that was popular when I first chose to follow Jesus. It tickles the ears, doesn’t it? It’s so appealing, this thought that if you are a true believer you are spared suffering and gifted only with a positive existence.
It is also completely contrary to what the Scriptures teach.
If Jesus was perfected through His suffering, who are we to think we won’t be perfected through the same means? (Hebrews 2:10).
Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus came that we might have life and life to the full (John 10:10), and it’s the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It’s just that this promised joy and life come to us in the midst of the easy and the hard, the triumphs and the travails.
The key, then, is to intentionally cultivate that joy in our hearts — to choose it — no matter what season we’re in, the easy or the hard.
And life is hard a lot of the time. This world we live in is not Eden. We are not in Heaven. Not yet. But, in the middle of this often difficult journey, God “has taken great measures to preserve our freedom of choice.”1 We have the freedom to choose to grow in joy or to retreat from it.
Said another way, life will inevitably be hard, and as maturing believers with our eyes set on Jesus, we will constantly be presented with opportunities to make choices that will either lead to a deeper joy or not. Here’s what I mean:
It’s hard to stand up against the group when they are going the wrong direction — spiritually or any other way. But it’s also hard on our consciences afterward if we don’t. That Jiminy Cricket won’t be quiet.
It’s hard to be kind to the mean, curmudgeonly neighbor. It’s hard as well to be convicted later of being unloving. It’s hard to not spend the money on the item we so desire.
It’s hard to save money. It’s also hard to be in debt.
It’s hard to have a loving but tough confrontational conversation with a friend. It’s also hard to not have one and then have offense and distance creep into that friendship.
It’s hard to fight for a marriage. It’s hard to lose a marriage.
It’s hard to break an addiction. And it’s hard to be captive to one.
It’s hard to live under the cloak of depression. It’s also hard to step toward healing.
It’s hard to face the story of your life. And it’s hard to live in denial.
It’s hard to reject the pressure of other people’s demands. It’s hard as well to live under them.
It’s hard to set aside time every single day to press into the heart of God. Sometimes it’s even hard to pray. It’s hard to find the time. But it’s harder to live your day with strength, hope, and integrity if you don’t.
It’s hard to pursue Living Water. And it’s hard to live in a dry and thirsty land without it.
It’s hard to fight for and guard your heart. It’s hard to lose it.
We get to choose our hard, and the decision we make will either lead to cultivating our hearts with a hope-filled joy or deadening them with weariness and despair.
Every morning when I wake up, I can guess that there are going to be hard things in the day. But the hard I choose is to follow Christ wherever He leads, and that hard leads to life and joy. Always. Even in the midst of suffering. So I urge you to…
Choose to obey.
Choose the good.
- Sarah Young, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), July 24 reading.
Excerpted with permission from Defiant Joy by Stasi Eldredge, copyright Stasi Eldredge.
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Make choices that lead to joy! Even when it’s hard. Even though it’s hard. Even in the middle of suffering. Jesus came to bring us life and life to the full! Let’s enjoy it by being intentional with our choices in a way that honors Jesus! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about cultivating joy!