Recapturing Joy in Difficult Times

With the close of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, people have many different feelings about the year ahead. We’re not merely wondering if it’ll be good or bad, but if it be relatively normal and uneventful after the last nine months (thankfully we skipped the murder-hornets!). Imagine that – most of us are just hoping for “normal” now! And while 2020 began with its typical share of hopes and expectations that most new years bring, very few expected it to turn out the way it did, both with the pandemic and its effects on much of our former ways of life.

Ironically, for years a number of people have been praying for our nation or even our world to be shaken up a bit (so to speak), to help us get back to what’s really important in our lives, to force us to slow down, disconnect from our culture and its entertainments, and reconnect with our marriages, children, and families. For years, various commentators and thinkers have been asking what it’ll take to get people to become more engaged – really engaged – with what’s really important in life, what’s happening in our culture, our political system, and even our own families. Many people were busy but bored, comfortable but not content, and we took many things for granted but were not grateful. We prayed for a revival in our land, something that would wake us up from our spiritual stupor. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Might I suggest that they got what they asked for, that we got what we asked for? It’s not too soon to say that, is it? If it is, don’t shoot me – I’m just the messenger! Sometimes, God has this way of answering our prayers yet not at all in the way we would expect or even want. He promises to send revival but never in ways that we seem to expect. He doesn’t do that to be cruel or anything, He just has His ways of using bad things for good, even if it’s not always exactly what we’d call “good”.

In my own family and our personal lives, this year was an incredibly challenging, difficult, and trying year – and one that we hope we never, ever have to go through again. The pandemic only added to the challenges, and there were many times in which it felt like our joy and happiness were being stolen right out from under us. During these times of testing and trials, the old adage of “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on for dear life!” certainly applies! And of course, we were not alone; there are many people and families going through difficult times, and the pandemic only added to it.

Yet while we often try to escape or avoid trials and terrible years like 2020, God is still present. He’s still on His throne, He still loves us, cares for us, provides for us, and He’s still at work in our lives, despite how tumultuous the times are. His purposes and plans for us and the rest of the world will not be thwarted, regardless of what transpires. In the Big Picture of both our lives and eternity, little has really changed, except perhaps that we’re not as certain of today or tomorrow as we once thought we were. But life in this fallen world is uncertain – it always has been since Adam and Eve’s transgression.

When I look over the last year or so and take a step back from everything, I can clearly see how our Adversary continually schemes and plots to steal not merely our happiness, but also our joy, our security, our trust – and even sometimes our faith. Consider how easily so much of our lives, security, routines, and “normalcy” have been disrupted by a microscopic virus we cannot see, touch, hear, taste, or smell. And even though God knows this, He allows it to happen. Why? For His purposes and His glory.

Over and over in the Bible, God tells us to praise Him, to give thanks, to sing, to not be afraid, to rejoice – with no clarifications or conditions attached. We are to do these things not merely when times are good, but when times are bad – especially when times are bad. Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible was written when the days were dark and the nights were long, from dungeons, in captivity, and from wilderness hideouts. It’s not in times of ease and comfort that we tend to draw closer to God, but in times of trials and tribulations. And global pandemics.

Might I suggest that God’s purposes in the midst of not only this pandemic but in all of life is to help us find our joy, security, and comfort in Him – and ultimately, only in Him. Anything less is a form of idolatry as far as He’s concerned. He loves us too much to allow us to settle for second-best, for things that won’t really satisfy our souls, for anything less than Him. By Jesus’s work on the cross, our Adversary knows he’s a defeated foe, and for those of us who are saved, that our eternal life is secure in Christ, that we’re no longer part of his kingdom. So what does he do? He seeks to steal our joy, our gratitude, our blessings, and keep us focused on this world and our problems rather than on our King.

The first and greatest commandment is for us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves, meaning anyone and everyone. The greatest, most desperately needed cure for this broken world isn’t another vaccine for a tiny virus, masks, or more social-distancing, but for us to love God with everything we’ve got and to love one another as ourselves. We are to look to Him for our source of joy, security, comfort, and well-being. We are to be thankful, to be a blessing, and to be joyful in all we do.

So in the midst of this pandemic and throughout life’s times of trials and tribulations, how do we recapture our joy in Him? First and foremost, spend time with Him, His Word, and His people. It may not be easy nor comfortable at times, but important, life-altering things rarely are. Second, enjoy His creation and explore the world around us, even if it’s only on a screen at times. Third, use whatever opportunities you have to draw closer to Him, even if they may not make sense to others – or even yourself sometimes.

For myself, over the last year or so (but especially since the pandemic hit), I’ve gotten into the habit of getting on the YouVersion app first thing in the morning and going through the Daily Story, along with at least one devotional plan (and then some). I do my best to get up early and take a long walk to a nearby park to start my day with Him, and then sometimes again in the evening at sundown.

When something wakes me up in the middle of the night (or I simply can’t sleep), I use that time not to worry, think, or fret, but to pray and seek Him. After all, who’s to say that He wasn’t the one who woke me up early or withheld sleep from me in the first place? Perhaps He wants to hear from us just as much as we want to hear from Him? These habits weren’t easy to start and more out of necessity than anything else.

As the new year begins and this pandemic continues, let’s try to use these trials for His glory, our benefit, and to redeem the time that God has given us.

About Chris Hambleton

Chris resides in Denver, Colorado, where he is employed as a software developer and consultant. He has authored more than a dozen books, as well as developed several websites, software applications, and written software-related articles. His other interests include traveling, hiking, running, studying the Bible, reading American history and politics, and literally devouring good fiction books. Recently, he has been learning to enjoy classical music, playing the piano, and learning Hebrew.
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