5 Solid Tips for Joy in Hard Times
Dr. Derwin L. GrayAuthor; Lead Pastor, Transformation Church
There’s no denying that we are living through strange and hard times. It feels like we’ve been hit with one struggle after another. Currently, we are simultaneously dealing with a global pandemic and protesting due to another black man dying in the hands of police custody. Our country feels more divided than ever.
These are hard times. And we tend to think there’s no joy in hard times.
But what if I told you that you can actually have joy in the midst of hard times? Happiness is not based on your circumstances or good things happening to you. Happiness comes from Jesus forming you into a good person.
Here are some tips for how to have joy and live the good life in hard times.
1. Declare Your Spiritual Bankruptcy
Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Being poor in spirit means to see your spiritual bankruptcy so that you can make room for the treasures of Christ. This Greek word translated poor (ptōchós) was commonly used to describe a beggar who was dependent on a provider. In the Old Testament, the word implied hope in God alone.
Jesus is teaching us that the good life is only for beggars, for those completely dependent on God to provide every single thing we have—for those who hope in Him alone. This causes us to have compassion for others, including the poor. How we treat the poor reflects our nearness to God.
Just as we were spiritually poor and Jesus met our need with the abundance of His grace, as God’s people we are to draw near the poor and meet their needs with our abundance. Just as Jesus fed the hungry in His ministry and died on the cross for sins, we, too, are called into the world to meet both physical and spiritual needs.
This will bring you happiness. This is the good life.
2. Embrace Lament
Lamenting is a holy hurt. But the hurt is a pain that pushes us deeper into faith, hope, and love. Deeper in my faith in Jesus and His redemptive purposes. Deeper into hoping, which is a knowingthat one day all things will be made new. Deeper into loving people.
In the midst of human suffering, having someone who cares for you, comforts you, prays with you, reads Scripture over you, and nurtures you through the rising river of pain is a gift. It’s as if God heals us as we become instruments of healing touch.
Lament will cement us into God’s love and comfort. We will feel His presence more and more.
3. Humble Yourself before God and Receive His Grace
Peter was one of Jesus’ fiercest followers during His earthly ministry. But do you remember what happened after Jesus was arrested? Peter denied him three times. I suspect in that moment Peter was confronted with the reality of his weakness. We all share that weakness. We are prone to blowing it big when we place our confidence in our strength instead of God’s.
I have found over the years that I am stronger by realizing that any moment I can sin and shipwreck my life, family, and church. Therefore, God the Holy Spirit prompts us to keep a posture of humility and neediness of God’s sin-defeating grace. Peter thought too highly of himself and, then, in the crucible of life, he denied Jesus.
Humility allows us to access Jesus’ supernatural ability to defeat sin and adversity. The good life is a humble life of leaning on Jesus.
Peter had one more encounter with Jesus, when he appeared to him after the resurrection. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter said yes.
Jesus does this to rewrite Peter’s story. Peter denied Jesus three times and, graciously, Jesus gave Peter three times to reaffirm his love for him. Before Jesus’ resurrection, it was over a fire that Peter denied Jesus. After the resurrection, it was also over a fire that Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus. There were two different fires and two different results. What happened?
Jesus took Peter through the fire, burning off his pride, so he could receive grace from Jesus’ nail-pierced hands.
4. Seek Righteousness
I long for sad things to be untrue one day. I hunger for wrongs to be made right. I thirst for the hurt to be healed and the broken to be fixed. I want decay and death to give way to life and human flourishing. Like you, I’m longing for God’s justice and shalom (peace) to overwhelm our unjust world.
And as I long for the brokenness out there to be healed, I also desire the brokenness in me to be healed. As we yell and shake our fists at all the wrongs in the world, we are longing for God to make the sad things untrue, to make the ugly beautiful, to heal the hurt. We are joining in the song of the ancient Jewish people when they sang, “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5). We join the Jewish prophet, Amos, when he wrote, “But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Living the good life means we respond to the pain of this world and seek righteousness by doing what we can to make a difference. If the people of God truly hungered and thirsted for God’s righteousness, imagine all the good we could do. Happy are those who partner with God to meet the deep hurts of the world with His deep love.
5. Pursue Peace
Animosity touches every inch of this planet. It’s everywhere. And when it’s everywhere, it becomes like an airborne disease that we can catch.
It’s critical that we are immunized by the gospel of peace.
The “gospel of peace” will fortify our hearts against this disease and we can become peacemakers. The idea of peace is gorgeous until someone offends you and you have to be the one who walks across the hot coals of fear, anger, and frustration to rehab and restore the relationship. Forgiveness of sins is the pathway to peace with God and peace with God’s other image-bearers. The dominion of darkness does not want us to be peacemakers because evil knows that forgiveness, grace, peace, and love lead to life.
The human heart is like a garden that requires cultivation so life can flourish. Peacemaking acts as nourishment to help the human heart grow and bloom. The more we soak in God’s peace through Christ, the more forgiving, merciful, kind, and compassionate we will become, because our hard hearts will be softened by His grace. His love draws us deeper into His heart, and we start resembling Him as we follow Him by faith. Thus, the God of peace will express his peace through us.
That’s why it’s important to develop and live out a theology of ethnic reconciliation. As you and I engage in peacemaking and building bridges of ethnic reconciliation in the church and outside the church, we will be called sons and daughters of God (Matt. 5:9). Wouldn’t it be nice for us as followers of Jesus to be known for making peace? This is the good life.
The more we become like Jesus, the happier we will be. Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. We must allow God the Holy Spirit to shape and form us into the image of Christ so that we can experience true happiness that lasts despite any outside circumstances. We don’t have to chase happiness in money, possessions, status, or anything else. When we are conformed to the image Christ and exhibit His characteristics; peace, justice, righteousness, humility; we will experience happiness and joy in hard times.