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God never promised us an easy life.
While we will likely face many hardships along the journey, we can confidently hold onto the assuredness we have in Christ, knowing He has already won every victory for us.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
What an incredible promise!
Of course, it is one thing to believe this of our God in the good times, but it can be an entirely different story when we have to put this belief to the test when faced with our greatest trials.
By nature, we know that our Heavenly Father is an overcomer, able to accomplish anything He sets His mind and will to do. We also know that we are deeply loved and that He is constantly working all things together for our good. So what do we do when the breakthrough we’ve been asking Him for hasn’t come through and is nowhere in sight? How can we experience God’s joy and peace, and continue to hold onto our faith during the wait?
I’ve faced many challenging moments in life where I felt full of hope and faith after hearing a powerful word or encountering God in worship, only to feel the weight of fear and doubt creep straight back into my heart. Such moments are emotionally exhausting!
Undoubtedly, God moved at the time, but for some reason, I quickly became quickly discouraged. Joy and peace often seem like they are always just beyond my reach and things I will spend an entire lifetime striving to take hold of.
I’ve come to realise that these struggles in my life have very little to do with my relationship with God or a shaky revelation that He is greater and more powerful than my problems. I have a firm conviction that there is absolutely NOTHING God cannot do, and that I am deeply loved. Instead, I believe that the problem lies in my FOCUS. In hindsight, I can see that my focus has so often been very misplaced.
Supernatural joy is so much more than a feeling and it’s not something we have to strive for. We have already received it by grace. It is a free gift from God, but it is entirely up to us how much we choose to make it a focus in our lives. The difference between living our lives according to focus or feelings, is that feelings constantly change and are entirely influenced by temporary circumstances. Once the party is over and everyone goes home, the fun-filled atmosphere begins to fade a little, right? Our intentional focus, on the other hand, holds greater permanency and doesn’t depend on external things. This is how we need to view God’s joy and peace in order to extract their maximum, supernatural benefits in our lives.
On one occasion, during a moment of worship, God gave me a vision of what misplaced focus looks like. At the time, I was carrying heavy disappointment which God knew was occupying far too much of my thought life. In the vision, I saw myself examining my disappointment through a magnifying glass— a piece of equipment designed to make small things seem much larger. I realised, in that moment, that my disappointment was actually relatively small and unimportant, but seemed so much larger and more powerful through the magnifying lens. It could be said that the small disappointment had ‘disguised’ itself as something much more significant and threatening. God revealed that in the larger plan for my life, this disappointment was really no match for what He had in store for me.
I remember asking Him to show me how I could change my focus, to which He replied, “Look up”. By taking my eyes off the disappointment that had been blown out of all proportion by the magnifying glass, and focusing instead on Him, He assured me that my reactions, responses and feelings would change accordingly. I have since found that to be so true.
If there is one man who knows a thing or two about the power of focus, it’s the Apostle Paul. In my opinion, Merwyn S. Johnson’s depiction of Paul best describes the kind of life he lived during the peak of his ministerial years:
Paul’s life wasn’t exactly the kind you’d wish upon anyone, yet behind those prison bars, he was able to find it within himself to boldly declare in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” How could that possibly be the attitude of one who had suffered and continued to suffer so much?
One word: FOCUS.
The kind of joy that Paul writes about, and promises, is not the kind of natural happiness that we experience when our lives are carefree and enjoyable. Wouldn’t that be nice! A ‘carefree’ life, as we imagine it to be, certainly wasn’t Paul’s experience. The kind of supernatural joy he spoke of sprung from the confidence he held in his Heavenly Father’s character—the kind that says, “Lord, I trust you and I know you are in control, no matter what my experience suggests otherwise!” There was certainly no natural joy to be experienced from his incarceration, but great supernatural joy to be found in the object of his focus and undivided attention.
Paul was confident in his Father because he knew He had no limitations and loved him dearly. Confidence in who God is—His nature—is the starting point for experiencing authentic supernatural joy. When we know our Heavenly Father intimately, we become familiar with and confident in His heart for us and for others. This makes us feel secure and at peace in times of trouble, and we can access supernatural joy as we patiently wait for Him to fulfil His promises in our lives.
Ultimately, it’s knowing whose you are that really matters.
While there will always be times, in our humanity, when we struggle to take hold of supernatural joy and peace, there are 3 keys that can guide us through emotional storms and help us to place our focus back on God:
1. Choose Thanksgiving
While it is important to pray continually while we are waiting for the breakthrough in our lives, Paul instructs us that thanksgiving should be given the same level of attention:
Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an act of worship that glorifies God and acknowledges His goodness. While it can be difficult to feel thankful when we haven’t experienced the fruit of the promise, we can practise thankfulness by prophetically declaring His goodness over our circumstances, thanking Him as if He has already answered our prayers:
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
When we’re struggling to find things to thank God for, we can begin by thanking Him for faithfully answering previous prayers. Reflecting on His goodness in our lives stimulates the most authentic moments of worship and stirs our faith to continue to believe in Him, unwaveringly, for the things we need in our lives.
Psalm 116:17 (KJV) describes thanksgiving as a sacrifice and sacrifices aren’t easy or comfortable to make, period. They cost us something. That’s why God is so moved by them. He knows the wait isn’t easy and is touched by our gratitude which rises as a sweet and fragrant offering of worship to Him. When our thankfulness precedes our breakthrough, we captivate His attention. It is a demonstration of faith and faith both pleases Him and stirs Him into action!
2. Choose to Praise
While facing great uncertainty in the natural, Paul lived ‘in the moment’, focussed steadfastly on God and placing his hope in Christ alone. We can learn much from his attitude.
God is worthy of our praise, even when things are not going to plan and we lack the answers we need. In fact, God delights in this kind of praise! An imprisoned Paul and Silas, in Acts 16:25-26, prayed and sang praises to God. This sacrificial offering to God activated a chain reaction, breaking off their shackles, throwing open prison doors and releasing them into freedom. In the same way, God wants to set us free from the chains of our anxiety, fear and doubt. He only asks that we trust Him more than what we can see or control. As Johnson explains regarding Paul:
Just like Paul, we too can choose to abandon our problems and place our trust in Christ.
3. Trust the process
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Is it possible that God is testing and stretching the limits of your faith right now as you wait on Him through your hardship? My guess would be, yes! Paul reminds us that this is a GOOD thing, so good in fact that if you can wait just that little bit longer and press into God a little bit deeper, you will lack nothing in the end! God has promised to reward your waiting with spiritual maturity and a greater level of strength in Him— gifts that will surely surpass whatever breakthrough you are currently needing.
Life is seasonal, but our relationship with our Heavenly Father is eternal. Don’t look for joy at the end of the wait, but find it in the journey. God sees beyond what you’re facing right now and has already prepared the breakthrough you’ve been praying for—even if you can’t see it yet.
As the saying goes: “Until God opens the next door, praise Him in the hallway.”
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving: let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods.
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