So many people I know are going through great distress. Some are dealing with severe health issues. Others are buckling under the weight of unrelenting relationship conflict. Others are seemingly trapped in thankless jobs.
As I have been praying for these dear brothers and sisters in Christ, reflecting on how oppressive their situations are to them, something occurred to me as another avenue for prayer. I’ve observed in my talking with them that their distress is the elephant in the room of their lives. Understandably so!
But the elephant is not the room. As big as the problem is, the problem is not the boundaries that enfold them. As unavoidable as the suffering is they are going through at the moment, they should not allow themselves to be defined by it.
What enfolds all of us as believers is the embrace of God’s love in Christ. That embrace even includes elephants, shrinking them down in size as we magnify the wonder of God’s love for us.
This love of God enriches our lives with the delight of joy. The psalmist reminds us where our joy is found.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Reflect on those words: “fullness of joy,” “pleasures forevermore.” Clearly, there is something we are ignoring or neglecting. Perhaps it’s because we are looking only at the elephant, forgetting that we live in the presence of our God.
Habakkuk urges us not to find our joy in circumstances in this fallen world. For those who know frustration, fruitlessness and futility, our God brings this prescription to us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19
We are to rejoice in the Lord. He is our strength. Even if things don’t get better in this life, the truth remains true. The smile of God’s grace warms our hearts and buoys our spirits to press on, fixing our eyes on Jesus lest we grow weary and lose heart.
James gives us the strategy of wisdom as we face the trials of our lives. He insists that we “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” How could we possibly do that, especially when the elephant is the prospect of financial ruin or a loveless marriage or painful death? James goes on, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
“For you know…” Those are the magic, transformative words. What we know about God, His purposes, His promises are game-changers. Knowledge of the gracious, wise, strong, enduring presence of our God should act to infuse our lives with joy. The mind, what we know to be true for today and for tomorrow, opens us to the refreshing waters of joy, hydrating us with grace to press on.
Let us not allow ourselves to be defined by our problems, no matter how severe. That can only rob us of the joy of our salvation. We are children of the living God, heirs of life eternal. Our Father is with us and He is for us. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Sometimes we allow elephants to eclipse that reality.