Finding Joy in a Trouble-Filled World
“ALWAYS rejoice in the Lord,” commanded the apostle Paul. “Once more I will say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) But for many, such joy seems elusive. ‘How can you be joyful when you have to put up with poverty, unemployment, unruly workmates, immoral enticements, or pressures at school?’ wonder some.
It would hardly be reasonable for God to expect his people to be in a perpetual state of jubilance. God himself inspired Paul to predict that these would be “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Nevertheless, the Bible does clearly show that even in the worst of circumstances, one can have at least a measure of joy. Jesus, for example, “endured a torture stake” and “contrary talk by sinners.” Certainly there was little joy in being painfully nailed to a stake or in being jeered at by crowds. Paul even speaks of Christ’s agonies as being so intense that he had to petition God “with strong outcries and tears.” Yet Jesus was able to endure all of this “for the joy that was set before him.”—Hebrews 12:2, 3; 5:7.
Early Christians likewise “endured a great contest under sufferings, sometimes while [they] were being exposed as in a theater both to reproaches and tribulations.” Yet, Paul says, they “joyfully took the plundering of [their] belongings.” (Hebrews 10:32-34) But how was this possible?
Joy—From Without or Within?
Joy is not something external. It is a quality of the heart. (Compare Proverbs 17:22.) True, external things such as family, friends—even a favorite food—can to a limited extent bring a feeling of joy. (Acts 14:16, 17) Why, just anticipating something good can bring joy! (Compare Proverbs 10:28.) However, the joy a person derives from external circumstances or material things can be short-lived.
On the other hand, external circumstances at times seem to rob us of joy. For example, a young man named Jim expresses how his secular job affected him: “I hated my job . . . I couldn’t see spending my life just to advance some company that didn’t seem to really care about me as a person. Plus, many of the people I worked with were backstabbing, insincere people.” Trying to induce joy artificially likewise proved a dead end. Recalls Jim: “I’ve been involved with drugs of all kinds since I was ten years old. But I became a very mixed-up person. I was sick of the life I was leading: drinking, taking drugs, and partying. Life had no meaning or purpose. I asked myself, ‘Where can I find something better?’”
Jim’s experience in this regard reminds us of that of King Solomon. He, too, learned the futility of trying to find joy through self-indulgence:
“I said, even I, in my heart: ‘Do come now, let me try you out with rejoicing. Also, see good.’ And, look! that too was vanity. I said to laughter: ‘Insanity!’ and to rejoicing: ‘What is this doing?’ I explored with my heart by cheering my flesh even with wine, while I was leading my heart with wisdom, even to lay hold on folly until I could see what good there was to the sons of mankind in what they did under the heavens for the number of the days of their life. I engaged in greater works. I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself . . . And anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them. . . . And I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind.”—Ecclesiastes 2:1-5, 10, 11.
Is there a way of life that is not vain, one that brings joy even under the direst of circumstances?
The Source of Real Joy
“The joy of Jehovah is your stronghold,” said Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 8:10) Yes, joy emanates from Almighty God because, for one thing, he is the Creator of all good things that can bring true joy. “Strength and joy are at his place,” says the Bible. (1 Chronicles 16:27) The real way to attain joy, therefore, is to have a friendship, a relationship, with the Creator himself such as Abraham enjoyed! (James 2:23) Can such a friendship bring joy? Consider what the psalmist said: “Your [God’s] friendship is better than life.” (Psalm 63:3, The Bible in Living English) In passing let it be noted that Jim in time came to appreciate these facts. Today he is a joyful Christian.
How could friendship with God bring joy? For one thing, God is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) In serving God, one need not fear that one’s efforts are in vain or go unnoticed. The smallest acts of devotion are deeply appreciated by him. (Compare Mark 12:41-44.) And when Jehovah blesses his faithful friends, his blessing “makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” (Proverbs 10:22) In fact, lovers of God look forward to enjoying the reward of eternal life in his New Order where “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) Such a hope is a real cause of joy for Christians!
Another thing to consider is that “joy” is a fruit of God’s spirit. Yet God generously gives his spirit to his friends upon request. (Galatians 5:22; Luke 11:13) What is the result? The psalmist proclaimed, “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!”—Psalm 144:15.
Keeping Our Joy
Nevertheless, even anointed Christians in Paul’s day felt low at times. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) And today the stresses and strains of life exact an even greater toll. But since joy is a quality that dwells deep in one’s heart, these pressures need not cause you to lose your joy. Consider, for example, Jesus Christ. We earlier observed that “for the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake.” (Hebrews 12:2) Though being impaled was obviously a wretched experience, Jesus’ relationship with his Father was far too strong to allow him to focus his thoughts on self-pity. The dominant thought in Jesus’ mind was clearly “the joy that was set before him”: the privilege of vindicating Jehovah’s name, the prospect of rescuing the entire human race from sin, the honor of serving as the King of God’s Kingdom! Even in his darkest moments, Christ could reflect upon these things and have feelings of intense joy!
Early Christians likewise could endure persecution, even ‘joyfully taking the plundering of their belongings,’ not because they derived some masochistic pleasure from misery, but because their minds were focused on why they had to endure these things. They could rejoice “because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” They could rejoice because of the ‘hope of everlasting’ life set before them.—Acts 5:41; Titus 1:2.
Today we also can maintain our joy, even when confronted with serious problems. Rather than withdrawing into ourselves and dwelling on our problems, we can try to remind ourselves of the blessings of having a friendship with Jehovah and the support of loving brothers and sisters. Often this is enough to make our suffering seem insignificant. Jesus illustrated the matter this way: “A woman, when she is giving birth, has grief, because her hour has arrived; but when she has brought forth the young child, she remembers the tribulation no more because of the joy that a man has been born into the world.”—John 16:21.
In the Christian congregation today are many fine examples of individuals who allow joy to overshadow their problems. A Christian woman named Evelyn, for example, has suffered a variety of illnesses, including cancer. She walks with difficulty and is often visibly in pain. Yet she is regular in attendance at meetings and usually has a radiant smile on her face. The secret of her joy? “I lean on Jehovah,” she is fond of saying. Yes, rather than dwelling on her misery, she makes an effort to focus her mind on the reasons she has to be joyful. This gives her the strength to cope with her illnesses.
Of course, we can easily lose our joy. Some become consumed with a desire for material things or recreation. They neglect Christian meetings, personal study, and field service. Rather than bringing joy into his life, the one who lusts for material riches ‘stabs himself all over with many pains.’—1 Timothy 6:10.
Pursuing the selfish “works of the flesh” is another way of destroying one’s joy. Fornication, uncleanness, or loose conduct may bring momentary pleasure, but they are diametrically opposed to God’s spirit, which produces joy. (Galatians 5:19-23) The one who indulges in wrongdoing risks cutting himself off from the Source of joy—Jehovah!
How much better it is, therefore, for a Christian jealously to safeguard his joy. If, for some reason, you find yourself lacking joy, see what you can do to regain it. Perhaps there is a need on your part for further study and meditation on the Bible. It is only by constantly reminding ourselves of our hope that we can “rejoice in the hope” ahead, even when suffering difficulties. (Romans 12:12) Or perhaps there is a need to have a greater share in preaching the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) “Giving” in this way almost inevitably brings a greater measure of joy!—Acts 13:48, 52; 20:35.
Our problem-filled world will continue to cause us trouble. But by drawing close to our heavenly Friend, we can hold on to our joy and gain entrance into God’s New Order where all the obstacles to joy will be forever removed!—Revelation 21:3, 4.