As my husband and I celebrate more than three decades of marriage and we look back on the adventures that God has carried us through, there is much to celebrate as well as many lessons learned along the way. Life is full of challenges. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but there are strategies to find the joy in life and celebrate the blessings of the journey. Jesus came to give us life, and to give it abundantly (John 10:10). Keeping our eyes focused on the right things can guide us to find that abundant joy in life.
Some times in life are tedious, and some are terrifying. Life brings too much when we try to keep it together on our own. Real joy is found when we lean on God for all that we need in life. Jesus used the imagery of us as branches that need to stay connected to the vine in order to have strength within us. We need to know that apart from God we can do nothing, but with him all things are possible (Philippians 4:13).
It can be easy to view the struggles in life as personal attacks. People act dismally, but most of the time they act out of their own pain, not as a critique of you. When we take challenges personally we become the victim in the story. It is a destructive cycle to paint ourselves as the helpless victim of our circumstances. It selfishly makes the story about us, prevents us from noticing the other's mess, and robs us of catching a greater vision of what God is doing around us. Perhaps a closed door is a call to look for an open window and a new opportunity. Taking things personally only makes us feel like a failure rather than a dearly loved child of God.
We will find more joy in life if we look back at the blessings that God has already brought us through. When we can glimpse God’s faithfulness through all of the struggles of the past, we can see how those struggles have equipped us to face the future. Perhaps there is encouragement to be seen in God's faithfulness to those who came before us too. Looking at God's legacy of faithfulness reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone and the God who brought us here will see us through.
Our culture idolizes busyness, but we were never meant to be always working. Taking breaks from your labors to rest in God’s presence gives strength for the journey. God calls us to find seasons of refreshment from him. In good times and in bad our source of joy and strength came from being rooted in Christ Jesus as our source of strength and encouragement.
Practicing empathy is an important gift for finding the joy in life. It is when we step outside of ourselves to love our neighbors that we find the joy of sharing in God’s kingdom purpose. It is valuable to consider how a situation looks from another perspective. Could we tell the same story and instead of looking at yourself as the victim, could you recognize yourself as the villain or hero of the story? It is critical to see beyond our own perspective to see how others might be experiencing life. We stop dwelling in our own troubles when we are willing to recognize the burden of our neighbor.
God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others. Our world is richer when we are caring for others. In Matthew 25:36 Jesus comments, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." When Jesus talked about who will inherit the kingdom of heaven, he said it was for those who recognized his image in the hurting people of the world and step in with empathy to meet those needs.
We get bored if our life lacks challenge. It is in achieving things that we thought were beyond our grasp that we find God at work in us. We work best when we are able to move past our comfort zone to discover God’s greater calling on our lives. Stretching is not always comfortable, but we are blessed when we explore new things and realize how God has gifted us and called us to live. God also calls us to encourage one another in discovering and using our gifts. We can help our brother and sisters to develop God’s gifts within them.
When we recognize that our awesome God is in charge and we don’t have to fret over all the details, it gives us hope for a brighter future. This broken world and its injustices does not get the last word. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This world has trouble, but Christ still reigns. We can look forward to a brighter future ahead in God’s heavenly kingdom when all the wrongs are made right. This perspective helps us to maintain a positive outlook even in the midst of struggles.
As we think back on these years together they are filled with reminders of God’s faithfulness. God has walked with us through the highest of joys and the lowest of valleys. We can trust a loving and faithful God with an uncertain future. In Psalm 16:11 the psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” With God in the center of this relationship we can look ahead with joy to days yet to come.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Kelly Vander Woude