How to Get Joy and Peace and Hope

There’s this idea out there that, unfortunately, I think is biblical. It’s that Christians are supposed to be marked by joy and peace and hope, no matter what’s happening in their lives (Romans 12:12, John 16:33, Romans 8:25).

You optimists are probably wondering why I find this idea unfortunate. These are rich benefits of being a believer, you might say. And while I agree, possessing these characteristics would be wonderful, most of the time, I don’t.

I am a whole-hearted follower of Christ who is rarely joyful, hardly ever filled with peace, and almost always feeling hopeless about one thing or another.

So when scripture tells me I should have joy and peace and hope, and I don’t, I feel discouraged.  

And today I think I discovered why.

Turns out it’s not my job to manufacture joy or peace or hope. I don’t have to conjure it up out of sheer will. I don’t have to “make it happen” in order to obey the Lord. I’m not expected to “look within” and find these things, like they’re being stored on the top shelf of my soul somewhere, and all I have to do is find them and dust them off.

On the contrary, it’s actually God’s job to fill the Christian with joy and peace and hope.

Paul gives a prayer/blessing of sorts to the Romans and says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13).

Yeah, so the onus is on Him, not us. This makes me feel a lot better.

According to this verse, “all” you and I have to do is trust in Him. The “rest” – the filling with joy and peace and the overflowing of hope – that’s all God. He produces those things in us as we trust in Him.

For me, trusting God feels a lot easier than coming up with feelings of joy and peace and hope that just aren’t there. Maybe because trust is more of an action than a feeling? When well-meaning clueless people tell me to just “choose” to be joyful, I slap them in my mind. But trusting – there’s something I can choose to do.

The Bible is one story after another of how trustworthy God is. It’s ripe with verses about His goodness and His sovereignty. If there’s one thing I am convinced of, it’s His dependability.

I don’t know how to make myself feel something I don’t, but I know how to say, “Lord, I trust you with _____,” over and over again. And when I do that, feelings of joy and peace and hope will follow.

The next time you’re low on joy and peace and hope, don’t focus on those things. They don’t come from you. Put your energy into trusting God, and He will do the rest. 

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Does God Ever Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

SufferingI shared an article on my Facebook wall the other day in which a pastor makes the case that God does give us more than we can handle. I happened to agree with this suffering Christian. However, a friend of mine who loves Jesus and the Catholic Church and knows Scripture took issue with the article.

(Note: you need to have Christians – and by that I mean Jesus-following and Bible-loving folks – who don’t think like you in your life. I joked with my friend, “As iron sharpens iron, so a devout Catholic sharpens an evangelical Protestant.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true.)

The dialogue with my friend helped me get to the bottom of why I agreed with the pastor’s sentiment and what he could have done to be more clear about his statement that God gives us more than we can handle (assuming his intent was to be biblical).

Go read the article for some background if you want. I’ll wait.

While my Catholic friend brought numerous disagreements to the table, his main beef was that, through Christ, we can handle anything (Philippians 4:13), and, if we believe in God’s sovereignty, we are to believe that whatever is happening to us is God’s will (Ephesians 1:11). That fact alone should give us reason to rejoice (Philippians 4:4) and embrace the burden (James 1:2), motivating us to stand up and endure. Not to mention, my friend pointed out, that God loves His people and would not “burden us past our capability”.

(I told you this guy is sharp.)

Clearly, I couldn’t refute my friends thoughts. I agree with his Bible-supported statements, although I could take issue with his assumption about how a loving God would and wouldn’t act, per his last thought. On the whole, my friend’s arguments are right.

And, yet, I still agreed with the bulk of the article stating the (seemingly) exact opposite: God does give us more than we can handle at times.

After some thinking, I realized the discord between my friend’s correct assertions and the author’s correct assertions was due to a lack of clarity on the author’s part.

The author wrote with an unspoken presupposition in mind that made a subtle appearance toward the end of the article but should have been more prominent. Because it wasn’t, my friend jumped on the lack of clarity and assumed the author to be off his biblical rocker.

The major distinction that wasn’t made clear is this: when we operate out of our own strength, what God gives us is often more than we can handle. But when we operate in total dependence on Christ, He will supernaturally enable us to handle anything. 

So, you see, both my friend and the author are right.

We have to get to the end of ourselves – we have to be broken, unable to bear anymore in our own strength – before we learn what it is to fully rely on Christ. God knows this, which is why, I believe, He does allow us to experience more than we can bear IN OUR OWN STRENGTH. We won’t turn to Him if we can bear it all alone.

Because He loves us and out of His desire for us to be drawn into closer, more dependent, and, simultaneously, more powerful relationship with Him, He allows/causes our burdens to accumulate when we aren’t depending on Him enough so we will depend on Him enough. He lets situations become too much so we realize how much He is – enough.

So, per the article’s point, don’t tell someone who is suffering that God won’t give them more than they can bear. Instead, tell them God gives us more than we can bear so we learn how to bear all with Him, and encourage them to use their suffering to, “Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually,” (Psalm 105:4).

The Question Every Non-Christian is Asking

There’s an important question every non-Christian is asking.  And we Christians, at least in my demographic, are just now beginning to realize it.

Every unbeliever is asking us Christians, “Will you love me even if I don’t accept your Jesus?”

For too long I, and most evangelicals I know, have approached sharing the Gospel as “the goal”.  When we meet an unbeliever, our chief objective is to verbalize the Good News as quickly as possible and “seal the deal” on their salvation.  If we are met with resistance (and why wouldn’t we be, having not invested in the person at all?), we give up on that person and move on to the next.

Which means we are answering their question with a very loud “NO!”

Sharing the Gospel like this communicates to unbelievers that all we care about is their making a decision to accept Jesus and the Bible’s teaching about Him.  To be sure, we are very much concerned they believe in Jesus.  But if that’s all we care about, then unbelievers become statistics, in our minds as well as from their points of view, losing their values as people and as individuals.

And I don’t love statistics.

I don’t love numbers.  I may get a little excited when the church announces figures each year of the number of people “saved”, the number of baptisms performed, etc.  That might cause me to ooh and ahh for a moment.  But I can’t recall last year’s stats.  I have no idea what the numbers were.  Because I don’t love numbers.

I love people.

People have faces and stories and hearts and needs and wants and baggage and hopes.  And when we begin to change our perspective on evangelism, we begin to value unbelievers for who they are, regardless of whether or not we ever get a chance to share Jesus with them.

Our evangelism formula changes, then, from:

I share Christ → You accept Christ → We form a relationship

to:

We form a relationship → You may or may not accept Christ → We continue relationship

This shift in perspective is necessary not because we value the Gospel too much (there is no such thing) but because we – – value people too little.  We don’t love people as Jesus loved people.  He was motivated to love people because of their innate value as people just as much as He was motivated by His concern for their having an eternal relationship with the Father.

“Just as much”?!  Someone’s spending eternity in dark, torturous hell seems a little more important than whether or not I love them well, you might argue.

Image via freedigitalphotos.net

It’s easy for me to think that.  Logically, that makes sense.  But my logic is not always God’s logic (Isaiah 55:9).  So we must ask ourselves, is this idea biblical?

What did Jesus teach us about loving people?

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,'” (John 13:34).

How has Jesus loved us?

“‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,'” (John 15:9).

How has the Father loved Jesus?

Well, as a parent myself, I can imagine the Father loved Jesus with every fiber of His being, investing huge amounts of time, emotional energy, and unlimited acts of service in His Son.  And Jesus loves us that intensely.  And Jesus wants us to love others that intensely as well.

Why?

“‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,'” (John 13:35).

Unbelievers will scratch their heads.  “Why do these people love others so well?  HOW can these people love others so well?!”  And, because they feel loved by us and are comfortable in our friendship, they will ask us these questions.  We will then be able to share Jesus with them.  And if they don’t accept that explanation or choose to adopt it as their own, we are to keep loving them, per the argument above.

Jesus commands us to share the Gospel (Mark 16:15).  But He also commands us to love one another (John 13:34).  He is concerned with both aspects.  Are you?