“Do Not Grieve, For the Joy of the Lord is Your Strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)
That your joy may be full …
One of the most significant things in the Christian life is joy. This radiant inner joy sets Christ’s followers apart in a frenzied, discontented world that relies on external events and successes for happiness.
True joy does not come merely from the fleeting feelings of pleasure when good things happen to us. Christian joy grows in the heart of believers. It is a deep, abiding contentment that arises when Jesus dwells in our hearts.
Spiritual joy is ever present and sustained in us by God, even when everything in life seems to be against us. In the midst of illness, poverty, isolation, persecution and even death, when there seems very little to be joyful about, God enables Christians to be joyful.
The refining fire of suffering
Unlike the world, Christians can actually welcome suffering because it can refine our characters and makes us more Christ-like. Paul describes this as a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Biblical joy is to respond to external circumstances, however difficult or tragic, with inner joy and peace, because “we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him” using all experiences, including our suffering, to accomplish His work in conforming us to the image of His Son, throughout our earthly lives (Romans 8:28-29).
He is carefully preparing us for the glorious day we will be with Him.
When Peter and the other apostles left after being flogged by the Sanhedrin for refusing not to speak of Jesus, they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
Count it all joy when you fall into various trials – James 1:2 (NKJV)
As Job endures the extreme trials God sent to test his faith, he finds “joy in unrelenting pain”. He declares his joyful consolation, even if God were to cut off his life, is that he has managed to remain faithful (Job 6:9-10).
The joy Job is speaking of is not just some joy but – as James (1:2, NKJV) puts it – all joy. This is the fullest, or most complete, kind of joy that can only come from God himself.
The Apostle Peter writes about this kind of joy, of “greater worth than gold, which perishes”, that comes in the face of grief and trial and fills Christians with “inexpressible and glorious joy” because of their love for Jesus and in anticipation of the end result of faith in Him (1 Peter 1:6-9).
CHRISTIAN MARTYRS OFTEN BORE PAIN WITHOUT EVEN CRYING OUT, PATIENTLY LOOKED DEATH IN THE EYE AND SOME FOUND THE COURAGE TO SING GOD’S PRAISE.
No one will take your joy from you – John 16:22
The early Church passed through some of the most brutal times of persecution and suffering known in Christian history. Yet, early Christians were often characterised by their calm, courageous and joyful response to persecution and suffering.
When Paul and Silas were in chains in jail they prayed and sang hymns to God, as the other prisoners and outcasts listened in wonder at such joyful praise in that dark place (Acts 16:25).
The mind is in heaven
Thousands of believers were thrown to lions or burnt alive during the first, second and early third century persecutions in the Roman Empire. Christian martyrs often bore pain without even crying out, patiently looked death in the eye and some found the courage to sing God’s praise.
Early third century Christian writer, Tertullian, wrote of the martyrs of his day, “The leg feels not the stocks when the mind is in heaven. Though the body is held fast, all things lie open in the spirit.”
Joyful Uyghur Christian sang hymns until the end
China’s vast north-west Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is now home to more than 10 million Muslims and is closely linked to its neighbouring Central Asian nations. In the early twentieth century, a number of Muslims gave their lives to Jesus Christ through the work of Swedish missionaries. One source records that between 1919 and 1939 the adult members of the church had grown to over 200, almost all of whom were converts from Islam.
In April 1933, an armed Muslim faction from Khotan (modern Hotan, Xinjiang) seized Kashgar, Yarkant and other towns and proclaimed the Turkish-Islamic republic of Eastern Turkestan. One of their first objectives was to eliminate Christianity from the region, in particular those who had converted from Islam. Male Christians were beaten and thrown into prison in Yarkant or Kashgar. Some were beheaded; others perished under terrible tortures. By the end of the 1930s, at least 100 Christian men had suffered martyrdom for their stand for Jesus Christ.
One who paid the ultimate price for his faith was 20-year-old Hassan of Yarkant. The young martyr’s soothing voice calmed the nerves of the other prisoners at night as he sang hymns to his Saviour in the Uyghur language. One of his favourites was “Loved with Everlasting Love”. When his singing ceased, the other prisoners concluded that he had died of starvation.
Beacons of joy in Cameroon’s longsuffering Far North
“Fear nearly swept us away when we left Koza via Gaboua for Malika and Kotsréhé on a motorbike, in the bush with thorny trees without houses,” a displaced Christian described the traumatic escape from a Boko Haram night attack on a Christian village.
Late in 2019, a terrible spike in Boko Haram raids on isolated and rural Christian communities caused massive displacement as families fled the onslaught of murders, kidnapping, arson and looting. Left with nothing but the few possessions they could carry, displaced families found themselves in desperate need and exposed to hostility in the Muslim-majority towns where they took refuge.
God is good, God is good, God is good forever
“We do not cease to convey to you the joy that animld for the gesture of love and heart for all that you have done for these brothers and sisters in difficulty,” were the words of a Christian leader as he explained how Christians responded when they received aid from their brothers and sisters far away.
“God is good, God is good, God is good forever," joyfully sang Madeleine, a Cameroonian Christian widow, as she received her parcel of food and other essential items from Barnabas.
Marie, a Christian mother, couldn’t hold back her tears as she gratefully exclaimed, “The God of Jesus Christ has visited me!”
More than 600 Christian families, displaced by cruel terror attacks on Christian villages in Far North Cameroon earlier this year, were sustained by Barnabas supporters who provided food aid, blankets and sleeping mats, warm children’s clothes, hygiene items and other essentials.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.
Picture taken from Barnabas Fund Magazine