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It often seems as if God narrates the story of our lives with irony. Joy is often fleeting, and real joy is paradoxically birthed in the most challenging of times. As I am writing on this topic of joy, I have been dealing with significant sorrow. A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at the funeral of a young friend. Is the buoyancy of joy possible when swimming in a sea of sorrow? Is real joy possible in a sin-stained, fallen world? As distant as it might seem at times, we know that joy is possible because Jesus prayed for us to have joy. Joy is included as one of the fruits of the Spirit. As I stood before hundreds of grieving friends and a young family left without a father, I asked God for His presence. The sense of aloneness was palpable. I asked the Creator to give me His perspective. The look of confusion was in the eyes of the congregation. I wanted to stand for His glorious purpose of declaring the truth, hope, and even joy of the gospel. God answered my prayer. Don’t misunderstand—it was a sad and sorrowful day. But sorrow and joy are not opposites, and sometimes they live precariously close to one another. I felt God’s presence. For a fleeting moment, I thought that I had a glimpse of His perspective, and I felt that I was given words of truth during a critical time. I experienced joy.

Joy flows from a particular way that one engages life. Joy is the product of praying for and entering into His presence, seeking His ultimate purpose, and stumbling toward His perspective.

I have set the Lord always before me;
 because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
 my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
 or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
 in your presence there is fullness of joy;
 at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:8–11)

These verses are quoted by Peter in his sermon in Acts 2. He tells us that this psalm refers to Christ and to His resurrection. We are invited to enter into His joy and His suffering, and these Scriptures present us with some instructions to do just that. First, notice that he speaks of the Lord’s presence: “I have set the Lord always before me” and “in your presence there is fullness of joy.” God’s great promise in the gospel is not the absence of struggle or an easy life path, but that He will be with us: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). We experience joy when we are aware of and focused upon His presence. Joy is not the elimination of sorrow but the presence of God in sorrow. Diligently pray that you will be aware of His presence.

God’s great promise in the gospel is not the absence of struggle or an easy life path, but that He will be with us.

Joy also comes when you know His purpose. “You make known to me the path of life.” Humans can endure great suffering and struggle when they feel that there is a purpose. In the concentration camps of World War II, researchers noticed that the strong did not always live and the weak were not always the most likely to die. No, it was the individuals who had purpose and meaning in their lives who were the most likely to live. There is no greater purpose than God’s purpose of glory. We experience joy when we are caught up in His purpose. Diligently pray that you would be aware of His purpose.

Psalm 16 is a reference to Christ’s suffering and resurrection; it reminds us of the joy found in God’s perspective. He knows that the last chapter is not the cross of crucifixion or suffering but the joy that would be His on the other side of Calvary. Jesus “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Gaining His perspective will provide you with a new sense of gratitude for His faithfulness in your life and a keener awareness of those blessings. Fervently pray for gratitude and godly perspective. As John Calvin said, “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” Gratitude leads to joy. God made all of creation, including us, to experience joy. Although the evil one is committed to destroying joy and glory, it is, in fact, what we were designed for. Diligently pray that you would be aware of His perspective, that you would be filled with the gratitude and joy for which God made you.

The church on the day of my friend’s funeral was full of sorrow, as it should have been. But to the extent that we sought God’s presence, trusted His purpose, and strained to see His perspective, there was joy. Echoing in the shadows of sorrow was the possibility of joy. Joy doesn’t come easily. We must fight the lies of futility, isolation, and loneliness, and we must fight the fleeting perspective that accompanies difficult circumstances. We must have the courage and the ears to hear the laughter and rich joy on the other side. For on the other side, we will fully enjoy His presence, understand His perspective, and be amazed by His purpose. We will spend eternity in joy.

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