It can be hard to imagine that you can still have joy in the middle of chronic illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, or any other number of hard experiences we face in this life.
In James 1:2, God plainly tells us that He wants us to be able to rejoice in our stressful times. He says, “when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT). But, if you are anything like me, you might be wondering how that is even possible.
Joy in trials only comes with a new perspective, a God-given perspective, that will help you realize the benefits of hard times and help you experience the joy that comes when you see how God is bringing good out of the difficulties (or even, because of the difficulties) in your life. God really drove this point home to me this morning as I was reading a devotional thought about this verse from Joni Eareckson Tada in her Beyond Suffering Bible.
“A personal trial is not just an assault to be endured, it is an opportunity one can seize.…Trials are opportunities to prove our love and enhance our faith. With this perspective, life becomes inspiring—not in spite of the trials, but because of them…. If you are tempted to slack off from praying but choose to remain faithful in prayer, your faith develops perseverance. If you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself but choose to think of others’ needs instead, your character will be refined. The result is an improved ‘you’ with greater faith and a closer fellowship with your Savior. This is where the joy comes in! We face such decisions every day. God may test you or the devil may tempt you, but you decide the outcome. We can choose to either backslide or advance. We can either fudge the truth or stand firm on the facts. When they happen, consider each test and temptation an opportunity to seize, a chance to prove ourselves faithful. The result? A closer friendship with God.” (Joni Eareckson Tada, Beyond Suffering Bible)
None of us are immune to personal trials, but Joni is well-acquainted with them, perhaps more so than the average person. In a diving accident at the age of 17, Joni suffered vertebral fractures in her neck and became a quadriplegic. Joni has not let that tragedy overcome her ability to have joy and make a difference in this life, though. She would not tell you that it has been easy, though. In fact, there was a time right after her accident when she tried to turn her head swiftly so that her neck would break more and cause her to die. I can’t imagine coming to terms with a paralyzing neck injury would be easy.
Joni became famous when she learned to paint with a paintbrush in her teeth. Since then, she has written numerous books about overcoming trials in this life. She opened the Center for International Disabilities and actively advocates for those with disabilities. She survived breast cancer and lives with intense, daily chronic pain, and yet, she is still able to find joy in each day, viewing each trial as an opportunity to develop a closer friendship with God.
After reading some of Joni’s books, I have realized how she is able to maintain her joy and sense of purpose. She sings when she is in pain. She memorizes and meditates on Scripture when she is lonely or struggling with claustrophobia. She engulfs herself in God’s truths, and that is exactly how we will find joy and purpose in our days, too, even when the difficulties of chronic illness seem more than we can bear.
Even Jesus endured both personal trials and temptations (see Luke 4:1-13). When Jesus went into the desert wilderness for time alone to prepare for His earthly ministry, Satan came to Him and tempted Him to exchange suffering for comfort and earthly glory. Jesus trusted in God and quoted Scriptural truths to overcome the temptations Satan presented to Him. I love how Suzie Eller puts it in her new Come With Me Devotional when she says that during this time of temptation, “Jesus carried truth as His weapon and faith as His shield. He already saw the enemy as defeated, his plans in disarray…. [Like Jesus] we stand equipped, for no temptation is greater than our God…. [And just like Jesus, we] are not battling for victory, but from a place of victory.” (Suzanne Eller, Come With Me Devotional)
Doesn’t that just make you want to whoop and holler “Amen!”? When we stand shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, we can have victory in our hard times. We can overcome by choosing to pray instead of worry. We can forgive instead of hold grudges. We can show ourselves grace when our bodies give out. We can praise instead of pout. We can remember God’s truths when we are tempted to give in or give up.
When we keep reading in James 1, God gives us even more encouragement about living through our trials and temptations.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know what when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect [defined as “mature”] and complete, needing nothing…. God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:2-4 & 12, NTL, parenthetical explanation mine).
When you need help in the midst of difficulty, here are a few things you can do that will help you to remain joyful in spite of the stress:
- Remember you are not alone. Chronic illness, chronic pain, and disabilities can make you feel horribly alone. The Bible reminds us that God has said that “I will never desert you, not will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NASV). Remember this truth when you feel alone and are tempted to lose heart.
- Refuse to give in or give up. Remember that you live from a place of victory. Don’t allow Satan to steal your victory or your joy. (See Ephesians 6:10-18 for more about being strong and victorious against Satan’s attacks.)
- Return to God’s truth. Read the Bible again and again to let God’s Word fill you with His truth and give you comfort. I like to write the specific verses God uses to encourage me in a journal, so that I can refer back to it and remember the ways God has encouraged and strengthened me. It also helps to write specific verses that encourage you on notecards and post them where you will see them frequently. If we let it, God’s Word can bring us back to the truth about ourselves and our circumstances. It is important to remain centered on truth in difficult times.
- Realize you can do all things in Christ. Memorize Philippians 4:13, which says that “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NASV). Personalize it with your name inserted and use it as a mantra when you are struggling to be strong. Repeat it often so that you can remember where your strength comes from.
- Recognize the good things that God is doing. Even when things seem bad, remember the truth that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASV). These verses give such hope that, not only is God working even the horrible things out for good in our lives, He also has a purpose for us, even if we haven’t quite figured it out yet. This is a promise that we can rely on, whether or not we feel it.
- Rejoice in the goodness of God’s character. We never have to doubt a God who sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross, so that we could receive forgiveness for our sins and have a relationship with Him (John 3:16). Even if we don’t understand the circumstances of our lives, we can know without a shadow of a doubt that God is still good (Psalm 33:19).
- Rehearse God’s praises from the Psalms. I love to go to the Psalms when my spirits are down, because they help me praise God when I can’t find the strength to do it on my own. The Psalmist didn’t hesitate to share his real emotions with God, and he gives us an example to do the same. Even as we have hard conversations with God (as the Psalmist does), we can also determine, as the Psalmist did, to praise God even when it is hard.
- Rely on God’s strength. In Isaiah 42:10, God reminds us that He will give us the strength we need in time of weakness. Write this verse down in a journal or on a notecard so you can remember its awesome truth: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (NASV).
- Raise your prayers to God. Don’t be afraid to express your emotions to the God who loves you, even if they are hard emotions. God is big enough to take it. He wants you to share your heart with Him and let Him heal the pain, so that you can experience true, authentic joy and find real purpose in this life.
- Remain fixed on the prize. Remember the truth in the verses from James 1 quoted above: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NLT). There truly will be a reward in heaven for those that endure testing in this life. We are encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on that prize, just like a runner keeps his eye on the prize when running a race. This gives the runner incentive to keep going and to try as hard as he can to win and not give up. The Bible tells us that Jesus kept His eyes fixed on the joy that was going to be His when His suffering was over (see Hebrews 12:1-3). God encourages us to be just like Jesus, keeping our eyes securely fixed on the prize we will receive in heaven someday. One day soon our pain and struggle will be over, and that is cause for great joy, indeed.
Disclaimer: The author and God-Living with Chronic Illness do not receive any compensation for references to specific people, books or websites. The ideas posted are not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such in place of your physician’s recommendations. You are welcome to share this post to those you know that may benefit from reading it, but please respect the copyright privileges of the author.
Laurie Miller is a wife, mom, nurse, and patient who lives with chronic illness and pain. She blogs at God-Living with Chronic Illness, a website dedicated to providing spiritual encouragement and resources for those living with chronic pain or illness. She is also a chronic illness coach who provides chronic illness education and guidance to help people learn to manage their chronic illnesses and find a level of health they haven’t been able to achieve on their own. For more information about coaching opportunities, contact Laurie at Godlivinggirl1@gmail.com.