Check out this extended interview with Jasper with some thoughts on joy, perseverance and sticking with God when struggles come.
Paul wrote ‘Be joyful always’ (1 Thess 5:16). But what is joy? What does it actually mean?
For me joy is a constant thing that is bigger than the moment. We have to know God’s joy even in times of troubles. It’s a bit like peace. We can’t understand why we have God’s peace in times of turmoil, but we also can know the joy of God’s love when things go wrong.
On a very personal, recent level, last week my daughter was rushed into hospital with some very serious seizures. We thought she was going to die. Thankfully she’s fine now, but in that moment we had to pray and know that God is good. No matter what happened, we had to try and pray and thank God for our daughter, whether she made it or not. That makes me sound like I’m special, but I’m not. We had to recognise that God is good. He’s good and with us in the times when we feel blessed, and he’s good and with us in the times when all is going wrong. And knowing that is the key. Joy isn’t a single moment, or a happy-clappy feeling. But it’s a deep recognition that we’re still loved by God.
In my journey with God, the most important thing has been knowing the Father’s love for me. I grew up without a Dad, and that was hard, but knowing God loves me brings a deep sense of joy and contentment. It’s much bigger
than a single moment. This kind of joy is bigger.
How do you cultivate that attitude?
We need to choose joy and be faithful in it. It’s hard to see joy in our own lives sometimes, so we need to recognise that God loves us, to almost remind ourselves of that joy when things aren’t going so well. That doesn’t mean we’ll be jumping up and down with happiness, but it does mean deep down, no matter what happens we know where we stand.
I know a guy who recently became a Christian. He’s got all sorts going on in his past, and he’s potentially going to prison later this week because of things he did. I was praying with him this morning and he has this incredible peace and joy, despite what he is facing, purely because he knows that God loves him and he knows what God has done for him. He’s got crazy things in his life, but he’s chosen to embrace an attitude that accepts God’s love for him.
My wife always cracks up at me because I always forget things. But, especially in our culture we need to remember the real good moments that we have with God, and celebrate those. Our society lives in the moment. We want everything immediately and we don’t want to wait. And that makes it harder to remember stuff. We’re always looking for the next good thing, so we don’t always celebrate how God got us through in the past. We forget easily. Personally I write things down. Quite often I’ll flick through my notebook and see some of my prayers of worry and concern and look back to see how God has carried me through that. Reading through and remembering only re-affirms that I know God loves me.
It’s easy to say, but what about those who risk everything for their faith, can they really be joyful?
Earlier in the year I was in Lebanon visiting some refugee camps full of Syrians who have been displaced by the war. We saw how the church was responding to needs and serving refugees. The church wasn’t doing anything particularly amazing, brave or new, they were just doing simple, obvious things with love and joy. They were feeding, clothing and housing families that needed help. They saw a need and met it, reaching out with love and joy.
You might think that’s a pretty obvious thing to do, but the situation in Lebanon is very complex. There’s a tough history between Lebanon and Syria, and the current influx of refugees into Lebanon is putting all kinds of extra pressures on Lebanese communities. We had Lebanese pastors telling us that they hated the Syrians, saying ‘they raped our women, they stole our land’, but God is calling them to love and serve their old enemies. It makes me realise that the only way those church leaders can respond and care for those they used to hate is because deep down they know the joy of God’s love – and are desperate to pass that on to others.
Even more than this, I think that when we hear stories of persecuted Christians that have stayed strong and kept going despite all they face, that our faith grows. Persecuted Christians are heroes, but let’s be honest, they are still normal everyday people, with struggles and doubts like you and me. If they can go through all kinds of pressures whilst holding onto Jesus then there is hope that we can do the same. I believe they make us walk taller, they make us lift our heads, and that they can make us proud that we’re Christians too – that we’re part of the same family. They can only keep going and persevere because they know true joy. They know beyond all else that they are loved, and that is enough to see them through. And in the west we need to be challenged and inspired by them!
Where do we start with finding joy when all is going wrong?
I do fully believe that if we remain in God and rest in his love – if we really do know his love – then the fruit of the spirit – joy, peace, gentleness, self-control etc. – do begin to grow in us. If we’re walking closely with God and face disappointment or struggle, I believe God can amplify the fruit of the spirit in us. There’s a tenacity with joy and a choosing that says ‘I know God is faithful, I know God is true, even if this might not be how I had hoped things would work out’.
Is joy a sign of maturity – that we’ve grown up in our faith a bit?
I know plenty of people who have had big losses in their lives. They’ve every right to complain, to get angry and go off the rails, but with these things there’s a spiritual depth and maturity with how we choose to respond. Christ in us carries us through those times. We know there is a hope and a joy in God’s love and as a result we choose to trust that God is good. Knowing his love means we know true joy and that can be part of our lives even in the midst of pain. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be happy all the time, but no matter what we face there is still joy in knowing that we’re loved by the father. And no-one and no thing can take that away from us.