Joy in Calamity: Why the Coronavirus Can’t Kill Our Joy
Our circumstances are far different from what they were two weeks ago. Everything is canceled and closed. Required social distancing. Increased restrictions. Mandatory self-isolation. Our world has been turned upside down. If you polled people and asked them, “How are you feeling?”, you can imagine what the most common answers would be. Anxiety. Fear. Worry. Boredom. Loneliness. Antsy. Uneasiness with the unknown. Depressed.
Would you be surprised if some answered...joy?
Joy? How can someone be joyful in this calamity? It sounds like oxymoron, or the response from someone who has been living under a rock for the past month. But as Christians we can experience joy in the midst of any and all circumstances, even global pandemics.
How can this be?
Where Does Our Joy Come From?
Ultimately, the joyful disposition of Christians comes from the fact that we are united to Christ. If you are in Christ, then you have experienced a complete renovation of your life. How you think, love, act, talk, and spend your time and money have all undergone radical transformations as a result of being united to Christ. And your citizenship has changed as well.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
Our citizenship is now in heaven. No longer are we primarily citizens of the United States. No longer are we citizens of the world. Rather, we are citizens of heaven. If we were citizens of the world, we would act the way the world acted, think the way the world thinks, and find our hope and joy in the temporary things of this world. But as citizens of heaven, our actions, thoughts, hope, and joy are not found in this world, but in Christ.
So why does this give us unshakable joy? Because the coronavirus cannot revoke our citizenship in heaven. COVID-19 cannot change the reality of who we are in Christ. In fact, no circumstance can alter these realities. They are as certain as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow.
And therein lies our joy. As believers, our joy is found in the unbelievable reality that we are (currently!) citizens of heaven.
- We have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of our sins (Colossian 1:13). That is, we have been delivered from our citizenship of this world and have been, by grace, transferred to become citizens of heaven.
- We are sons and daughters of the ever-living God. We are co-heirs with the King of kings and Lord of lords (Romans 8:12-17).
- We were once lost, but now we are found by Christ (Luke 15; 19:10).
- We were once blind, but now we see (John 9:25; Luke 4:17-21).
- We were once dead in our sins, but now are alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
- We were once sinners deserving of eternal judgment, but now we are saints who have received an eternal heavenly inheritance (Romans 5:6-11; Ephesians 1:3-14).
For the Christian, these are not temporary realities. They are not true just for a season in your life. These are eternalrealities. And there are no circumstances, no suffering, no pandemics, nothing that can snatch away these truths of who you are in Christ. This is cause for some tremendous joy.
And how can we be so certain that these realities are in fact eternal? Because it is God who is doing the work to make it happen. It is God who is transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). It is Christ who “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). That is why Paul encourages the Philippians (and us!) to “stand firm in the Lord” because of the assurance of hope that we have in Christ (Philippians 4:1)
Our joy, then, is found in being a citizen of heaven and the eternal realities that come with being transferred into the kingdom of Christ. And the assurance of receiving these rewards is secured by the power of God. Therefore, we can experience joy at all times because our joy depends not on our changing circumstances, but on the One who does not change: the LORD God Almighty.
Is This Joy Just a Façade?
Now, some might think that I am advocating that we always walk around with a fake, forced smile on our faces. That’s not the joy that I am talking about. Our joy in the Lord is an inner joy, an inner peace that is found in Christ alone. This kind of joy is rooted in Christ and what He has secured for you as a citizen of heaven. That kind of joy cannot be shaken even when calamity hits.
Sometimes your joy may be solemn. You can be mournful, troubled, upset, and weep all while still maintaining a joy that can be found only in the Lord. That is why Paul wrote that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). He endured tremendous suffering (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-28), and yet the joy that he had in knowing he was a citizen of heaven caused him to still rejoice despite his circumstances.
This concept of joy even in sorrow is expressed so well in the hymn, “It is Well,” specifically when it says,
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Whether peace surrounds you like a warm blanket or sorrows threaten to capsize your boat, if you are united to Christ, then you can say, with joy, “It is well with my soul.”
For those who are in Christ, we can have joy even in calamity because our joy is not dictated by our circumstances. Our joy is found in the Lord.
Can We “Lose” Our Joy?
For Christians, we can’t truly lose our joy in the Lord’s promises. We have seen that this is because they are secured for us by God (see also Ephesians 1:11-14). But we can “lose” our joy in the sense that we smother it out by the cares, concerns, and circumstances of life.
And oh how easy a trap that is to fall into. In our current situation, it is so easy to become overwhelmed, anxious, and frightful of the coronavirus. We are bombarded with constant updates and inundated with media, videos, and statistics that flood our thoughts and drown out our joy. But there are other situations, besides global pandemics, that can kill our joy. It could be a long battle with cancer, the death of a loved one, or financial difficulty. It could be an overwhelming, high-stress job, rebellious children, infertility, or a broken relationship. Truly, any calamity and suffering that we endure has the potential to divert our gaze off of Christ and onto our circumstances instead. And in so doing, we don’t experience the joy that is ours because we are consumed with our situation. If your joy was a fire, your fixation on your circumstances can smother your joy like a blanket smothers a fire. Setting your mind on your circumstances will slowly suffocate your joy.
For Christians, focusing entirely on our sufferings and situations may reduce our delight in the Lord to a small ember, but it can never fully extinguish our joy.
How Do We Fight For Joy?
So how do we rekindle the embers of our joy into a roaring fire? We set our mind on things above, not on the things of the earth (Colossians 3:2). We “seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father” (v 1). Because that’s’ where we belong! Remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Instead of allowing our circumstances to dominate our thoughts, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v 16).
We set our gaze upon Christ (c.f. Hebrews 12:2) and remind ourselves of the implications of being in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24).
How might you practically do these things? What can we do to ignite our joy in the Lord? Here are a few things that I would suggest making a disciplined habit of doing. (Note: Pastors Ryan, Jacob, and I have similar exhortations in our individual blog posts this week. We did not discuss or collaborate on this ahead of time. I make note of this because perhaps God is trying to really impress these disciplines upon His people for His glory and for our joy.)
- Read and Study Your Bible. You cannot remind yourselves of truths that you don’t know or aren’t aware of. Read your Bible and mine the riches therein! It is a treasure trove of God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-empowered goodness. Read and study it for the glory of God and the edification of your soul. Don’t know what to read? If you haven’t read (much of) the Bible, then start with one of the gospels (I would recommend the Gospel of John). If you are familiar with the gospels, then I encourage you to read Colossians or Philippians. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a pastor for suggestions on what to read or how to study God’s Word.
- Pray. Through prayer we have an incredible privilege and opportunity to communicate with the good, sovereign God of the universe. Prayer is deeply important to experiencing unshakable joy in the Lord. Do you struggle with how to pray? You are not alone. I am still learning and growing in my prayer life. Don’t be ashamed to reach out and ask for help with how to pray.
- Memorize Scripture. Though probably the most disliked discipline, memorizing Scripture is incredibly beneficial and can help fan the flame of joy. It is a powerful way to have the word of Christ dwell richly within you (Colossians 3:16). It is also amazing to see the Holy Spirit use Scripture you have memorized to help you and edify others. It is a difficult discipline for sure, but one that has tremendous benefits.
- Read Christian Books. Though never to act as a replacement, reading some good Christian books can be a helpful supplement to your Bible reading. Intentionally making time to read has been tremendously encouraging and edifying in my walk with the Lord. Ask one of the pastors for suggestions on some books to read. (You can also check out Pastor Ryan’s Coronavirus Lockdown Recommended Books.)
Brothers and sisters, let not your circumstances dictate or suffocate your joy. Rather, let the reality of your citizenship in heaven and your standing before God in Christ be your joy in the midst of any circumstance.
*If you don’t know Christ, what a unique time to come to Him. May you receive Him as your Lord and Savior. May you confess your sins, repent from them, and find forgiveness in Christ and in Christ alone. And may you treasure Christ above all things so that your joy may be found in being a child of God and a citizen of heaven, not in your circumstances. If you have more questions, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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