Let’s be real, my sisters. Life can be overwhelming and uncertain, but this year especially has felt extra turbulent. The struggles are real. Cancelled plans, grief for moments and jobs lost, fear of what’s to come next, etc.
It’s easy to have joy when life is sailing along smoothly on calm seas, but when the waves begin to roar, our peace and joy seem to go overboard. Take a moment to picture a raging storm; see the ominous clouds swirling up above, hear the booming thunder that reverberates to your core and imagine you feel the darts of water from the crashing waves on your face. Got the storm in your mind? Your life may feel like that storm right now and that your joy is gone, but do you know what is happening a hundred feet below the storm in the ocean? All is perfectly quiet and peaceful. No sound, no storm, just stillness.
The truth is that our joy is not lost at sea, rather it’s within us. It’s hidden in the depths of our souls, far beneath the surface, unable to feel the changing winds of uncertainty. One of my favorite quotes is by Sam Storms, who said “joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.” It is in God’s presence that we find contentment and peace that surpasses any of the outward circumstances we are facing.
When fears, anxieties and troubles arise in life, we must learn to lean into the presence of God to help us cultivate joy. Over the years, I have found a few ways that have helped me cultivate joy through faith in the midst of the fear and uncertainty:
1. Declare God’s promises, not your problems. When you talk with your friends and family are you talking more about your problems or God’s promises? The Scriptures encourage us to speak life not death. That doesn’t mean you can’t share your problems, but with it declare God’s promise. For example, “I may not know what to do in this time of uncertainty, but God tells me that He will never leave me and that He will make His path known to me.” Do you see how that adds hope to your situation? And then when we are hopeful we become more joyful. I work with my coaching clients quite frequently to help them create their Affirmation GPS (God Positioning System) Declarations that allows them to discover the truths that they need to use to guide them in the season they are experiencing and refuel their joy. You can do this too. Simply select a piece of scripture that you want to declare as God’s promise to you. For instance, “I AM blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, NIV). Then write this down on a post-it note and display it in spots where you will see it and declare it over yourself.
2. Lean on God, not on your plan. I confess that I am a recovering control freak. So as long as I could plan ahead, it gave me a sense of security even if things didn’t always go my way. However, when the pandemic hit, I couldn’t even plan a few days out because things were shifting so fast. It made me realize how much I was leaning on my plans and not God as a source of peace and joy. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT). As we go through times of uncertainty we need to step back, release control and simply ask God, “what’s the one thing I need to focus on next?” And then when that is done, ask the question again. Pretty soon what you will find is that you are leaning on God, your joy is being renewed and He is leading you through this time of uncertainty.
3. Look at the donut, not the hole. Okay so nowhere in the Bible does it talk about donuts, but it does talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. In times of uncertainty it is easy to focus on everything that is missing, everything that is going wrong and everything that is not what we planned. However, what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (NIV). The italicized word is my emphasis, because I want you to realize that God isn’t telling us we have to give thanks FOR all things but IN all things. When you look at a donut do you see the hole or the actual donut? When you look at the donut, you are essentially looking at all that you can be grateful for IN this situation. I don’t have to be grateful for the pandemic, but I can be grateful because I had people who checked in on me during the pandemic. I can be grateful that my job allowed me to easily transition to shelter in place and stay safe. Today, don’t look at the hole (what’s missing), look at the donut (what do you have). Remember “joy isn’t the root of gratitude; gratitude is the root of joy,” which is why the first note in my 90 Days of Delight journal/devotional is all about gratitude because it is the key to having joy no matter what circumstances you are going through.
4. Work while you wait in the uncertainty. When I am in an uncertain situation, I want it to change NOW, especially when I think God has something greater for me. But God wants us to wait expectantly, which means not sitting on the couch whining, but rather working on something that will help you move forward. A great example of working while waiting is the story of Ruth. She moved to a foreign country with her mother-in-law hoping that God would provide for them. Instead of sitting around waiting for her circumstances to change, she took an opportunity to work in a stranger’s field. Little did she know that that stranger would become her husband and she would go from poverty to wealth in an instant. The work she was doing during this time of uncertainty might have seemed trivial in the moment, but it led her right into the arms of her promise. Working isn’t just about a vocation it could be starting a new hobby, reading a book, helping a friend, all while you are waiting for God to bring you out of the uncertainty. When we shift our perspective and wait expectantly, we can allow joy to fill our days rather than fear. Like Ruth, it may lead you into a season of clarity and promise.
Even when you are facing uncertain situations, God’s presence and truth can be your anchor and source of joy. You don’t have to worry because He is with you. You may not know what’s to come or what your next move is, but He does. It may feel like a storm right now, but remember if you go to God you will find a deep joy that calms the seas and gives you a peace that passes all understanding.