Discovering Real Joy

Discovering Real Joy – By Alex Ryan

Welcome, friends, to Episode… or Blogisode?… 2 of the Reclaim the Truth series!

In our first Blogisode (yep, we’re sticking with it), we discussed Jeremiah 29:11 and sought to reclaim a biblical understanding of God’s plan to “prosper” His people. It is within His plan, His timing, and His Kingdom economics alone that we find our prosperity. We left off by saying that both our prosperity and our joy amidst that prosperity may look quite different than what we would’ve thought.

God’s Plan for Prosperity 

If you zoom out in Jeremiah 29 a bit, we can actually see a fuller picture of God’s plan for prosperity in the verses surrounding verse 11.

First, we read in verse 4 that God’s people were sent by Him into exile. Then, He even encourages them to build houses, plant gardens, and build families while in exile, because their “welfare” will be found in supporting the welfare of the city. Interestingly, the word we translate into “welfare” there in verse 7 is actually the same word we famously translate into “prosper” in verse 11.

Later, the Lord further describes His promised prosperity by saying that if His people look for Him wholeheartedly, they will find Him and He will end their captivity and restore their fortunes.

Obviously, this is a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive will and glorious grace.

But it seems easy to miss that exile itself was a part of God’s plan to “prosper” His people. First, it was amidst exile that He planned for the “welfare” (or prosperity) of His people through building homes and families—and ultimately seeking the welfare of their captors (which is a difficult reality to consider in a Western society that seems to place individual liberty above all else). Additionally, it was the experience of exile itself that ultimately caused God’s people to recognize their need for the Lord and would stoke their desire to seek Him with all their heart.

That means “prosperity,” at least on this side of Glory, is representative of a journey that includes both comfort and trials. And His grace is being lavished upon us throughout both.

Which leads us to our verse for today—James 1:2.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (ESV)

To help illustrate, let me tell you the short version of a long story.

God’s Plan vs. Our Plan

The Lord called my family in 2021 to leave Colorado and move here to Ada. It was a wonderfully disorienting experience—especially since we had told everyone who would listen that we would “never” leave Colorado (best-laid plans, or whatever). We felt an ever-changing range of emotions, from grief to disbelief, from mourning to excitement… we were all over the place. Our first trip out to Ada was a perfect microcosm of that emotional reality.

We had 36 hours to come to Ada, find a house, and then get back to Colorado to try and sell the place we were currently calling “home.”

So we booked our tickets, flew into Oklahoma City, and drove down in a rental. It was just Victoria and I, so we enjoyed the rare gift of a quiet car ride without all our kiddos screaming at us (and each other) from the back of a van. I remember everything was so green, and something in my heart knew this was our home.

We tasked our realtor (who was lovely) with showing us seven houses in one afternoon. We hopped in her car outside of her office on Main Street and drove all over Ada. Of the bunch, there was only one house that we felt any sense of excitement about… that also happened to be way over budget.

The rest were either in disrepair (well-hidden by those misleading Zillow photos) or too small for a family of six (at the time—we’ll be a family of eight by early August). While we were unclear on the larger “purpose” of this move, we understood clearly that whatever neighborhood we moved into would be our primary mission field. Because of that, we had prayed fervently that the Lord would make it obvious where He intended us to live.

But we didn’t feel anything except confusion, accented by a tinge of doubt.

of doubt.

Hope Amidst Despair

We laid in our hotel bed at the Hampton on Lonnie Abbott later that night, after stuffing our faces with pasta from Papa Giorgio’s. I remember praying, “Is this really your will for us, God?”

There was so much that seemed confusing. So much that felt more like defeat than victory. We even found out that one of the houses we were considering was next to a violent, convicted felon. There was a weird mixture of anger, sadness, and guilt as we thought about missionary families who were being sent into much more difficult situations than the possibilities that lay before us.

Were we just not “good” enough Christians to handle this? It felt selfish to struggle in this way. To mourn what we were losing when we would still have so much.

That night, not long after Victoria and I prayed for wisdom, our realtor texted us and said that one more house had come on the market. We saw it the next morning on our way back to the airport, and knew as soon as we pulled up that this was our home. There’s much more to the story, but later we found out that we would’ve missed the opportunity to buy this house if we had planned our trip even one day earlier, or one day later. God’s timing was perfect.

After finding our home, we felt a renewed assurance that we were following after the will of the Lord. That we actually had received this call and weren’t just crazy. Despite that, we still felt we were letting people down. Some of that was our own guilt-effected perception, and some of that came from the actual words and behaviors of those around us. There still seemed to be much to rejoice in, and much to mourn over.

Yet through it all, there was something in our soul that let us know we had what we needed. Confidence in that reality waxed and waned, but it existed. Whether we were crying, or whether we were dreaming about what the Lord might have for us next, we felt hope. We felt joy.

Of course, He didn’t owe us anything. He very well could’ve brought us to a home that didn’t fit, that sat next door to a felon, in a town that was new, way hotter than we were used to, and swarmed with spiders and other bugs that most Coloradans would’ve confused for something out of Jurassic Park.

Either would’ve been a show of His grace if we would’ve been willing to surrender to it. And there certainly was something sinful about our lack of trust in God’s plan, regardless of where He moved us to. But He allowed us the space to bring these things to Him anyway.

So What Does All of That Have to Do with James?

Joy or Happiness? 

Quite often I’ve seen James’ encouragement to “consider it all joy” used as a way to try and force ourselves or others to stop feeling. Sometimes we do this to ourselves as we battle through a guilt-driven need to try and call ourselves out of grief. Other times it’s used by a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ when they see you mourning and feel like they have to “fix you.”

The problem is, joy is not just a more powerful emotion that covers up some other “weaker,” or even more fleshly emotion. It’s not just something that we can create for ourselves.

Emotions like happiness are fleeting. They ebb and flow with any given moment and can often be drummed up by a concerted effort. Scientists have even discovered that you can actually trick your brain into feeling happier just by smiling for long enough. Heck—I can go from happy to sad in the time it takes me to finish a scoop of ice cream. So is joy the same?

Decidedly (and biblically) not.

Joy in the Valley

In fact, we read in Galatians 5 that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. That provides an important distinction.

If joy is good “fruit” produced in us through the Holy Spirit, then we are only capable of producing that fruit by abiding in the True Vine, as discussed in John 15. Joy requires us to run into the stronghold of the Lord; to allow Him to carry us when our own feet can go no further. That doesn’t mean we’re happy when we get there. That doesn’t even mean that we have a totally righteous or holy view of reality as we retreat into the shadow of His wing. It simply requires that we trust Him enough to go there.

I’m reminded of Psalm 23. For many of us, we know the version that says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” which has always sounded more like a commandment to me. I’m partial to how it’s rendered in the NIV—

“The LORD is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.”

This seems to underscore the reality more effectively. We cannot force ourselves to be content or joyful in the Lord, but we can commend our soul to remember what is true; that in the presence of the Lord, we have all that we need.

And it’s important to apply the truth of Psalm 23:1 to the rest of the passage as well. We lack nothing when we are led into “green pastures” and when we lay down beside “quiet waters.” But we also lack nothing when we are in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Because He is with us.

He is with us because He is leading us to AND through the valley. We didn’t end up there accidentally because we don’t serve a God of accidents or coincidence. Our Lord, in His Sovereign Grace, leads us always into prosperity, as we discovered in Jeremiah 29. Whether that prosperity requires a journey into exile, the wilderness, or the valley. It is for our good.

Lacking Nothing

James 1 says that we should count it all joy, “…when we encounter trials of various kinds.” While this is a guarantee that we will encounter trials, James also encourages us by saying that these trials will have their “perfect result,” as the NASB puts it, which is a tested, steadfast, perfect, and complete faith.

James then exhorts us to ask God for wisdom, which seems an appropriate recommendation directly after promising that we will encounter trials. And James finishes up that section by saying that we should not be deceived—thus the need for wisdom—but rather understand that “every good and perfect gift is from above.”

In other words, we must seek the wisdom of God to see our trials rightly.

No matter how hard the circumstance, no matter how dark the valley, no matter how big the metaphorical “spiders in Ada” (gosh, they’re big)—the trials we walk through are actually a gift from on high, meant to reorient our souls to the truth that in Him—




Importantly, that doesn’t mean we never mourn. The truths described here in James should not be a bludgeon to those in pain. I heard Matt Chandler say once that joy can look like a tear-soaked pillow or shouts of joy—and I fully agree. There is sorrow in this world. There is wilderness and pain; there are valleys and exiles.

It seems important to stop and mention here that we often exacerbate these realities through our sin. The Israelites were sent into exile because of their sin. Previously, they were sent into the wilderness for the same reason. We frequently abandon the level path of the Lord for a much rockier alternative, while He consistently beckons us back into His will. At the same time, we see Job, a righteous man, experience overwhelming trials as God refines Job’s faith, draws him deeper into relationship, and ultimately achieves His glory to the good of all who might be affected by it.

But in either instance, if we believe the Word breathed into James by the Holy Spirit—all of these are an exhibition of God’s grace and a part of how we experience joy.

Momentary Affliction

My wife and I have experienced two miscarriages. To say that the resulting grief is overwhelming, disorienting, and ever-present seems to still somehow be an understatement. It is a dangerous lie that “time heals all wounds.” Of course, the Lord can use time spent with Him to put grief into perspective. To strengthen our faith in His goodness, and to use our grief in mighty ways to uplift and encourage ourselves and others through ministry and evangelism. But I still fully believe that some wounds will persist until Glory. It is only at that point that, as John describes it in Revelation, that—

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

And while the truth of what awaits us beyond this world provides hope in what Paul calls our “momentary affliction,” it also makes clear, as does James, that we will hunger, thirst, and experience grief until we’re called Home. But let that reality serve to underscore how not to use James 1:2.

You should be free to weep, mourn, sing, laugh, celebrate, rejoice, and everything in between while feeling the freedom of knowing that you have the joy of the Lord. Joy does not require a smile, it requires surrender, as we follow our Good Shepherd through hills and valleys.

It’s my sincere hope that we as the Body of Christ give space for ourselves and others to experience the full spectrum of God-given emotion while in pursuit of joy. That we don’t associate going to church with a need to “be okay,” or even to look okay. If there was ever any place where it should be okay not to be okay, it would be in a room full of people whose very presence there (should) mean they understand how broken they are and how much they need the Lord.

We should “mourn with those who mourn.” Not “guilt those who mourn into plastering on a smile so no one feels awkward.” And in so doing, we will point them to the only source of true joy amidst trials.

Through Him

It is through Him that we overcome our lack. It is through Him that we can “count it all joy,” regardless of how we feel. It is through Him that we can express those feelings without shame as a part of our joy.

It is through Him that we can persevere. It is through Him that we can do all things.

And with that as a well-placed teaser… tune in for Blogisode 3 as we discuss Philippians 4:13 and what it really looks like to do “all things through Christ who strengthens” us!

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