“You make known for me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
Joy is not the same as the momentary happiness we can experience. Joy transcends our circumstances, regardless of what they might be. After twenty years in a Communist prison, Watchman Nee, the Chinese Christian martyr, wrote these words in his last letter: “I know how to maintain my joy.” What an amazing statement. How easy it would be to become bitter and joyless because of the circumstances. But this man of God had learned that joy is not dependent on the outward circumstances. Joy is the result of a relationship of love with the Lord. Since nothing can separate us from His love and care, nothing can steal His joy from us (Rom. 8:35, 39).
David, the Psalmist, knew times of great pain and struggle – his life was not free from problems. David was well acquainted with tears: “Put my tears in your bottle; are they not in your book?” (Ps. 56:8b). His trials were varied and numerous. He knew what it was like to flee, as a fugitive in the wilderness, hunted by King Saul. He knew what it was like to face the reality of his own sin and be brought to a deep repentance, which is recorded for us in Psalm 32 and 51. He knew the grief of having an infant son die. He knew the heart-wrenching pain of seeing another son rebel and turn away from the Lord. Yet, in spite of all this adversity David knew that “weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). And it is David who writes that “in your presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).
The Bible records for us the multiple trials that the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, experienced in His bringing the Gospel to the world. During his ministry, which encompassed about 35 years, he suffered numerous beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment (II Cor. 11:24-28). He describes his suffering to be not only external, but internal (II Cor. 1:5-10). Nevertheless, Paul writes extensively about the importance of joy in his letter to the Philippians (which he wrote during one of his times in prison). He tells them for instance to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). In every circumstance and at all times they were exhorted to “rejoice.” Paul had himself learned to rise above the trying circumstances he faced and is an example for us.
The believer is not immune to trials and tribulations. In fact, Jesus said that “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But as long as we abide in Christ, we will maintain our joy. I pray that we may be able to say with through His messenger, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).