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Should Our Joy Depend on Our Circumstances?

The missionary David Brainerd acknowledged our “absolute dependence” on God for “every crumb of happiness” we enjoy. Acknowledge this dependence and find guilt-free happiness in deep sleepvigorous exercise, good food, close friends, public worship, meaningful work, and robust coffeecoram Deo. When we know the Lord has done great things for us, our mouth will be “filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps. 126:2).

But when our joy is threatened by painful circumstances—when we’re shocked by sudden loss, paralyzed by gut-wrenching grief, or weakened by chronic disease—we fall back on hope. Hope is the fact-based conviction that no matter how bad things are now, they’ll get better.

Jesus prayed in Gethsemane with no outward evidence of joy. A bitter cup sat in his immediate circumstances. Why pursue this torturous path? For “the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2). No matter how bad his immediate circumstances were, he knew they’d improve. For also standing beside the bleeding Son was the ultimate circumstance of an omnipotently kind Father.

As others have observed, for the unbeliever who doesn’t repent, this world’s fleeting joy is the closest he’ll get to heaven. For the believer, this world’s momentary sorrow is the closest he’ll get to hell. This is why Paul can rejoice in prison, knowing it has actually “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Immediate circumstance: Caesar’s prison. Ultimate circumstance: God’s purposes.

Again, Paul can say to Christians weeping over fresh graves that their grief differs from the grief of those who “have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Immediate circumstance: the believer is dead. Ultimate circumstance: the believer will be raised.

Dynamic Partnership

Joy and hope are faithful friends. “Two are better than one,” and when our joy stumbles under the load of immediate circumstances, hope is there to “lift up his fellow” (Eccl. 4:9–10). Hope and joy cooperate for our endurance. Hope sustains us until we can feel joy again.

On the last day, the ultimate circumstances will swallow up our immediate circumstances, and every tear will be wiped away. Until then, by God’s grace, I’ll pursue joy by changing every circumstance biblical wisdom allows me to change. I’ll accept every sad circumstance I’m unable to change as the providence of the all-wise God. And I’ll remember ancient advice: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission. 

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(ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; DMin, Reformed Theological Seminary) has been senior pastor of First Bible Church in North Alabama for over 30 years and is the author of Which “Real” Jesus? Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, and the Early American Roots of the Current Debate and Brothers, Stand Firm! Seven Things Every Man Should Know, Practice, and Invest in the Next Generation. Steve and his wife, Lori, have two children and three grandchildren.