Joy is the serious business of Heaven. —C. S. LEWIS
Joy Is also the settled assurance that God is working all things for our good and for His glory. Peter describes our life here on this earth as a “fiery ordeal” (1 Peter 4:12). Sometimes life is hard, and it doesn’t seem to let up, the flames are flicking all around us, aren’t they?
Thanksgiving eve 2018 I was in the hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I asked, “Where are You, God?” And the answer comes from deep within. “I’m right here.”
I had just been told that I had stage four Bladder Cancer. How could I be thankful this year. I might die. And that’s when the phrase “defiant joy” was born. We would not cancel Thanksgiving.
The battle between good and evil could not have been made starker on that day, and it looked like a victory for the kingdom of darkness. But we needed to remember that Jesus had entered the darkness and brought the light. His unending life signaled the end to the rule of evil and proclaimed the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God. Yes, a battle was raging, but Jesus had won it, and we were invited to proclaim it and enforce it.
After I was released on thanksgiving day our family gathered in our home that night, we paused and prayed and, in silence, honored Jesus—His death, His resurrection, and His ascension—we chose to honor Him and celebrate that He has won and is winning still.
We gave thanks. We feasted. We lingered in one another’s presence, drawing closer to the fire of each other’s hearts than we might otherwise have done because of the pain.
We were defiantly joyful. Defiant joy is different from mere defiance. And it is completely other than denial. Joy is fully rooted in the truth. Joy embraces all the senses and is fully awake to the laughter, the wonder, and the beauty present in the moment as well as the sorrow, the angst, and the fear. Joy says, “Even so, I have a reason to celebrate.” Crazy, right? Sounds like God. A God who laughs at the sneers of the enemy, stares suffering in the face, and proclaims with fierce love, “You do not have the final word.”
And as He does, He captures our deep hearts with a hope that defies death. Defiant may not be a word we would normally associate with the living God, but it can actually be quite fitting.
Defiance means resistance, opposition, noncompliance, disobedience, dissent, and rebellion. And when it comes to things that would destroy our souls, that is exactly the right response. We are called to resist the lies of the enemy.
We overcome evil with good. We defy hatred by embracing love. We choose joy. In the midst of all the suffering in the world, it can feel irresponsible, even frivolous, to have joy. And yet, and still, we are called to it.
Certainly there is a time to grieve. There is a time to mourn. To wail. To sigh. But Joy is the heartbeat of the kingdom of God. Joy is what sustains us; it is our strength. We can be resilient. We can be filled with the expectation of good things. And we can have joy in the midst of the pain of our lives. I think we know instinctively that joy is different from happiness. Both are great.
But joy seems higher, doesn’t it? Better somehow. Rooted in more reliable things. Happiness is circumstantial. Happiness is unpredictable; it feels vulnerable because it is tied to my circumstances. Circumstantial happiness is an emotional roller coaster; it can really take you for a ride.
Joy is rooted in the presence of God. When we know His hand is evident. Joy is not happiness on steroids. Every healthy human being has the capacity to feel happiness, but joy is something entirely different, made up of its own unique substance.
Joy is connected to God and reserved for those who are tapping into His reservoir, who are connected to His life. Joy is rooted in God and His kingdom, in the surety of His goodness, His love for us. It is immovable. Unshakable. Joy is available at all times, day and night, because God and His kingdom are always available to us.
I want my heart grounded in the higher place of joy. I bet you do too. Who among us does not want more joy in our lives? In our work. In our marriages. In our relationships. With our children. In our quiet moments alone.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and we are meant to experience and enjoy it, regardless of our circumstances. Whatever may be swirling around us, in the eye of the storm there is joy and the sweet peace of God that passes all understanding.
Thanksgiving 2018 was a watershed moment in my journey of faith. Living moment by moment in the unshakable presence of God became a fortress of peace and joy that protected my heart from fear and worry.
The rest of the story is that the doctor made a mistake. Or did he? When I went in for a cystoscope procedure my bladder was free of any cancer. But my faith was so much stronger.
How do we get there and how do we linger? The simple answer is we need to come to know God more deeply. We need to practice His presence. When we do, we can believe and rest in His faithful, immovable, immeasurable love for us in every moment we are in.
Peace and Joy