Recently, over the past couple of months, “choose joy” has been a constant in my life. First, it was the theme of a weekend retreat where my relationship with Christ grew in ways I never imagined were possible. Then my mentor, accountability partner, best friend, and Sister in Christ, Emily, suggested we do a study on the book of James, in which trials and how to overcome those trials are the forefront. I will be forever grateful for these two experiences as I am someone who struggles with anxiety almost daily, and knowing that my God can replace that anxiety with joy gives me hope, knowing that one day I will be anxiety-free.
James 1: 2-4 states, “2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity of great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
I’ve often wondered lately what God is trying to tell me through the book of James. As I read and reread the first chapter alone, I think of the struggles, both big and small, in life God has carried me through in order for me to want to persevere and choose joy even when that same joy seemed unfathomable. How has He connected the dots in my life to get me to where I am now?
From starting as a sheltered, introverted, insecure, and loved child who had it all; to becoming a student-athlete in college who made the world her home; to losing my father, who was my best friend; to growing into a Woman of God, whose extroverted Man of God found her when she most needed him. God sweetly reminds me through James and other scriptures that although struggles and trials are real, we can find joy in them. I think back to the retreat where an image of a railroad was mentioned, with struggles and trials on the left and joy parallel to the right, but in the far distance; the two merge into one where they coincide in this crazy life.
Which one wins in the end? Letting our trials overwhelm us, or letting the joy shine through in the toughest moments?
James 1:1-11 teaches us to “choose joy” even through our trials, no matter how big or small. “3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”
If we didn’t have struggles and trials within our lives, we may not mature in our faith, which could lead us to becoming overwhelmed to not knowing that joy deep down within truly does exist in the storm life sometimes presents. Joy and happiness both may be nouns; however, joy goes deeper internally than happiness. Happiness is an outward expression depending on the situation; whereas, joy can be existent on the inside even when happiness may not be in that moment. Need wisdom during a storm?
James 1:5-6: “5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.”
Pray for God to help you replace your trials, insecurities, and struggles with perseverance, positivity, and joy. Do not waver, do not give up, for God alone will give you the strength you need to overcome and choose joy.
For the most part, deep down in my bones, I choose joy. There are days where my anxiety and stress kick in full force, where James, Romans, 1 Peter and my life verse, Philippians 4:6-7 (thanks to my husband—he introduced this scripture to me the first day we met), take total control in calming my nerves.
Philippians 4:6-7 states: “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Choosing joy isn’t always the easiest, but knowing that presenting my trials and struggles to God will give me peace instead of worry, I choose letting God take total control, so I can have joy.
In Romans 5:1-5, we see the results of trials when we choose joy: Verse one: “we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Verse two: “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Verses three and four: “3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Those results bring about hope, peace, and JOY!
In 1 Peter 1:7 and 9, we see additional insights that are gained to help us choose joy: Verse seven: “These trials will show that your faith is genuine…So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” Verse nine: “The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls.” Oh, the day when Jesus returns will be the most joyous!
I can now find joy in knowing whose I am. I can find joy in forgiving myself and letting go of my past and my “hot mess-ness” college girl self because God put some of the best friendships in my life, albeit a few. I can find peace in the loss of my father, although definitely not a happy time in my life, through forgiveness because my Heavenly Father saved me, and I know I will see my Pops again one day, which brings true joy to the depths of my being. My Dad taught me how to help others because he loved others more than he loved himself, and my Heavenly Father has helped me put a servant’s heart to fruition and connected the dots on my sole purpose in life: youth ministry, whether in a classroom, nursery, or as a Teacher Assistant at Brainerd High School.
I can find joy in everyday life, even when my anxiety is at its highest, because God chose me. That is joy within itself. He chose me when I didn’t deserve to be chosen. He gave me my husband who is the epitome of a Man of God and does his best daily to show Christ living within himself. God has connected the dots in my life ever so graciously, and I will continue to choose joy as He continues to connect the dots during my present and future.