Afraid Yet Filled With Joy

There is a strange juxtaposition whereby, at the same time, while fear and doubt are trying to capture my heart, the Holy Spirit is pulsing reminders of joy. Joy in my identity as a secure child of God. Joy over my filling with the Hope found in Jesus. Joy in the understanding of God’s great love. And joy in the permanence of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s righteousness in my life.

I love this quote by Elisabeth Elliot: “Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to do the thing we fear. Go straight into the furnace or the lion’s den. Were those men out of touch with their feelings or with reality? No! Nor was the psalmist who said, ‘When I am afraid, I will trust.’ There’s a big difference between feeling and willing.”

Matthew 28:8 says, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples.” Just as the women at Jesus’s tomb were focused on their devoted love of Christ and their intent on bringing burial spices for His body, an amazing intervention by an angel caused them a mixture of fear and joy in an instant. The angel revealed the very thing they had hoped for – Jesus was not there, He had risen from the dead! They saw proof of His resurrection. But, in that same moment, the emotions of surprise, trepidation, and fright flooded in.

In all the moments of life, I am relieved that I can experience both fear and joy at the same time. Much like the example of childbirth, there is the mishmash of simultaneous thoughts – “I can’t possibly do this thing,” …”give me drugs,”… “I really really can’t wait to meet this little one,”… “one more push,”… “there will be joy in the morning, right?”

That similar mixture of fear and joy is the juxtaposition in the mind and heart of every believer. We see the proliferation of evil and brokenness and many fearful things in our world. All very unsettling and disturbing. We are certainly not out of touch with our feelings or reality. Yet, we know God’s promises in His Word that these things must occur and even greatly increase. These things signal the nearness of Jesus’s 2nd coming, a cause for great joy! So, I pray that God will help us all to manage our “fear and joy” moments so that we will continue to do just what the angel commanded the women at the tomb to “…go quickly and tell His disciples; ‘He has risen’…” (Matt. 28:7).

Matthew 28:9-10 says, “Suddenly [on their way] Jesus met them [the women who had been at the tomb]. ‘Greetings,’ He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.’ ” These women were not out of touch with their feelings or reality. These women had stepped out in courage and were willing to obey both the angel at the tomb and Jesus on the way.

In the face of fear, another favorite verse I like is 2 Chronicles 20:12b: “…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” God is always faithful to deliver what is needed when we are both afraid and filled with joy. Take courage in these frequent moments.

A Certain Kind of Joy

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

There is a certain kind of joy that can occur when we endure an impossibly hard season. Be it a pandemic, a terminal diagnosis, a death, shattered bones, infertility, betrayal by a spouse or friend or colleague, loss of employment, or persecution because of our faith, we can still experience the unique! Joy. If we know Jesus as Lord, in particular.

I’m not talking about happiness. This joy is more about confidence. It is more about hope being fixed on what is unseen, what is coming, what is promised. It is more about security in eternal terms. No way will we be happy about what we are enduring in the now. But we can be happy that God is lovingly showing us whether or not our faith is genuine. Fire turned up on high. Dross burned off. Hindrances vaporized. What’s left? Strong faith.

There is JOY IN THE SHOWING. I Peter 1:6-7 (NASB) says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This proof reveals lives miraculously transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This evidence lets us know where truth faith is bubbling up.

There is JOY IN THE SEEING. God already knows the status of our faith. Weak or strong, marginal or steadfast. He already knows. The testing happens so that we can know it ourselves or that others can see the real live picture of Christ’s character in us. God sometimes uses the disastrous to thread perseverance through our lives. To make us dependent on Him. To make meaningful our wrestling. To prevent us from abandoning hope. To make us like Him.

Too, I have noticed that in Christ, one kind of suffering prepares us for the next season of suffering. When I replay God’s faithfulness and provision in the former seasons of my life, even if waiting on Him seemed endless (and it always does), I know His strength for the next season is accessible. This is a repeated revelation for me but, in one faith experiment I learned that I had a self-sufficiency problem. This was when I broke my upper right arm (after a trip and fall in CW). And yes, I am right-handed. I clearly saw the dross God wanted to remove. The testing of my faith was not wasted on that painful healing process! God exposed my dependence on myself and it definitely needed to be taken down a few notches.

There is JOY IN THE KNOWING. Settle assurance. I can make sense of my pain when my faith is being purified by my suffering. God allows it and God uses it. Like childbirth, I can even call pain productive. But, only if the process forces me to focus on the age to come instead of the temporal “sparks flying upward” (Job 5:7) life here on planet earth. I must see the unseen to be weaned away from obsession with the earthly. My heart must be lifted to unseen glories. Kate Warren defines joy this way: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” Unseen glories. Still learning this lesson…

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB) says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God have been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

In this, there is a certain kind of joy.