My Joy is Unspeakable
This quote from Elisabeth Elliot's book Passion and Purity, reflects my life in so many ways. Whether it's a relationship, school assignment or life circumstance I often struggle with finding joy. I get caught up in life circumstances and the emotion that comes along with them, and it's all too easy to loose sight of how God is working in my life. I think the girl who wrote this letter to Elisabeth has several important insights which I need to keep in mind:
1. Struggles do have a purpose, and that purpose is our growth. Whenever I face hardship my first thought is typically, what's the point? Why did I meet that guy? Why am I sick? Why do I keep failing my exams even though I study so hard? Why does it seem impossible to have control over my finances? Why is ____ happening? What is going on? What will happen in the future? It's easy to lose sight of purpose. But if hardships have a point at all, I think it's for our own growth. "The Lord has brought about growth in me." Instead of jumping to the question of Why? or What? - look for the Who. Who is bringing this growth in me? It's the Lord. God works through our struggles to produce something good in our lives: growth. It could be growth of character, perseverance, patience, and often it's just more trust in His ultimate sovereignty. What struggle in your life do you desire purpose for?
2. The key to moving forward in struggles and understanding God's purpose is surrender. "I have to give him to the Lord regularly. I live in "present tense" more than ever before and have managed to overcome the plaguing desire to know if "we" will eventually "work out"." I'm not going to pretend this is easy because it took me years to figure out the key to surrender. I think it's ultimately rooted in the knowledge of God's control. When we know that God is in control, we can fully let things go. It doesn't mean that we stop caring, or that those desires disappear but it's the ability to move past them. To move to the place where you are consumed by God instead of the circumstances in your life. It's okay. We can entrust our deepest heart's desires and struggles to the Lord - He's ultimately in control and works all things for His plan and our good. Have you ever struggled with moving forward and surrendering?
3. If I want to be an obedient servant I must expect hardships and suffering. An image of this cycle appears: suffering -> growth -> obedience -> growth -> suffering. In the Bible it talks about this process as sanctification: the process where we become more like Christ - an obedient servant of the Father. It is never promised that we won't experience suffering. In fact the opposite is presented here - God brings us into suffering in order for us to grow into obedience, character and devotion. If we want to grow we have to suffer. But not without a purpose - remember that the purpose of our suffering is our growth. The sooner my heart began to understand this the easier it was to experience those hard times. I also "know too much" about God just to walk away and abandon Him. I can't do it - I can only keep moving forward. If you want to keep growing, have you ever considered the role that suffering may play?
4. Surrendering everything to God and continually turning to Him brings unspeakable joy. "But he has brought me this far and already my joy is unspeakable." This process of suffering leading to growth, leading to obedience, leading to growth, which leads to more suffering brings joy. That seems crazy and impossible but it's true. As we continually fix our eyes on the Lord, how He's working in our life and how He's changing us we are filled with joy. As we become more like Christ (through this process of sanctification), we are filled with joy. As we understand the true purpose of our sufferings, learn to surrender and ultimately trust that God is in control we are filled with joy. This joy doesn't come from us, or our attempts in this process but from God himself. The Spirit grants us this joy so that we may be encouraged and filled with peace. Have you ever considered the role surrender and turning to God has is in bringing you unspeakable joy?
Experiencing joy in the midst of suffering is completely possible. Look for the Who - where is God working? How is He bringing about growth in you? Trust that God is in control and surrender your desires and suffering to Him. It's the only way to move forward. Expect to encounter suffering because it's through these moments where God does the biggest work in our lives.
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