My husband and I recently sat in on a meeting to discuss the options, challenges, and hurdles of our child’s special needs. As we sat surrounded by several specialists, listening to them list the problems at hand, a lump began to grow in the back of my throat in an attempt to fight back the tears of our painful reality.
I felt a fresh wave of sadness for what’s been lost, a struggle within me to hold on to joy, and a resistance to accept what God has allowed. I never imagined this for my life and, although I see God working through it in so many ways, my flesh still wants relief, answers, and sometimes a way out.
Everyone faces these unexpected and often unwanted circumstances at some point in life. Nobody gets a free pass from suffering, disappointment, and grief.
But as believers, our hope is not in this world. So where do we go with these heartaches that are so real, so consuming, and often threatening to steal our joy?
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)
This is my prayer today, and may it be yours if you find yourself in a similar place. For this is where we must go when we feel battered by the trials of life.
Restore to Me the Joy of Your Salvation…
What most often threatens our joy? Pain, fear, shattered dreams, disastrous effects of sin, circumstances that strip us of comfort, and prayers that seem to go unanswered, just to name a few.
I admit that too often I attempt to find joy in what I think will make me happy and comfortable. It’s so easy to confuse the two when our flesh is so drawn to comfort. We are too easily satisfied with short, temporary bursts of pleasure, rather than pure, satisfying joy in our Savior.
However, joy is the byproduct of the gospel, not of our circumstances. Without salvation in Jesus Christ, there would be no joy, only temporary happiness. So when we find ourselves battling despair, we need to go to God’s Word and ask him to freshly remind us of what we truly deserve apart from his saving grace. This truth helps to shift our emotions and pain into a right perspective, freeing us to experience the joy that is ours in Christ.
For this reason, these disappointing and distressing realities of life can actually be God’s goodness to us. For when he strips away the comforts and blessings that we tend to expect and fear losing, we are suddenly forced to grapple with where we are placing our hope. We are forced to seek unwavering joy in the Giver, rather than settling for mere enjoyment in his gifts.
David’s words are life-giving, and they lift our eyes to the source of our joy. They also remind us that we are not capable of producing this joy within ourselves but, we are able ask for the Spirit to awaken us to the joy we have in Christ. As I have prayed these verses today in my own fight for joy, I have been reminded that although he has not chosen to remove this heartache and struggle from my life, he has used it to plow the hardened soil of my heart in order that the fruit of joy might be greater produced in me.
This world can bring disappointment and pain, but it cannot steal our joy when our salvation is secure and hidden in Christ. Because we are quick to forget this undeserved reality, we can pray in these moments of despair and heartache, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation!”
Uphold Me with a Willing Spirit…
David knew his need to be reminded that his joy was first found in the Lord’s promised salvation, not in his circumstances or his own goodness. However, he also knew that joy would only come through a willing and submissive spirit to God’s work in his life.
The same is true for us. Our eternal joy is secure in our salvation, but our immediate joy is also reliant on a willing spirit to serve and trust him completely and obediently, even when life takes us down a path we never expected or would have asked for. We do not obey because of force, but we trust that Christ will uphold us and faithfully bring to completion by his good and perfect will, using imperfect people and a broken world.
If I’m honest, the root of my struggle for joy has stemmed from the fact that I’m resistant to accept what God has allowed. I’m incredibly thankful for how he has sustained and protected me through so many hard years, but my flesh still rears its ugly head too often. Unfortunately, this often triggers a complaining attitude, a short temper, and a victim mentality towards life. By his grace, he doesn’t allow me to stay there for very long before the realization hits me that I’m heading down a miserable and joyless path.
It often seems, however, that soon after I’ve accepted and chosen to trust in God’s sovereignty (by his grace), another wave of circumstances hits, taking me back to that familiar fork in the road.
Will I accept this circumstance, despite my short-term vision seeing no good purpose for it? Did I really count the cost when I surrendered my life to Christ? If I had known this would happen, would I still follow him? Do I believe his promises, even when I may never see them come to fruition in my lifetime? Will I allow the resistance in my flesh to take root, or will I pray as David did, “Give me a willing spirit”?
These questions of wrestling are good and right when we take them to the Lord in honesty and humility. He delights in hearing our hearts. God knows that the path of acceptance begins with trusting his character, and the path to knowing his character is through his Word. Therefore, it is critical to go directly to the source of truth (the Bible) when these circumstances, and their resulting emotions, threaten our joy.
Stand on His Promises
When we grow to trust completely in his character and the promises of his Word, we are more easily able to accept what is from his hand. This may not happen immediately when suffering strikes, since we are still fallen beings, but increasingly we learn to bring our emotions, questions, and needs to our trustworthy Savior. This opens the pathway for experiencing the joy that comes from our promised eternal salvation, as well as a secure confidence and trust in his promises to sustain and equip us for each and every moment of our day.
I am amazed and thankful that the Lord brought this verse to me through a mentor as I was wrestling again with anger and a joy-sucking discontentment in what God has allowed in my life:
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. (Psalm 121:3)
Right when I feel like I’m sinking, he pulls me up and sets my feet firmly on his promises. The Lord has given me a willing spirit. This power does not come from our own strength, but from the power of his Spirit within us. This is the God that we serve. One that sees us, one that pursues us, and one that upholds us. He knows our every need and knows exactly when we need it. Yes, he may allow the winds and the waves to come, but he promises to carry us through them.
Are you feeling as though the light has gone out from you and joy is nowhere to be found? Are you struggling to accept what God is allowing in your life? Is there someone you know who is suffering and doesn’t know where to turn?
You are not alone. As the body of believers, we can come alongside of each other and remind one another of the joy we have in Christ. We do not grieve as those without hope. So whatever circumstances you find yourself in, I encourage you to walk with this prayer as your banner today: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit”(Psalm 51:12).