Finding Joy When the Struggle is Real
Written by Denise Pass (First 5 Ministries)
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Lying in the hospital bed, I contemplated whether or not I had enough fight in me to face my new reality. Cancer and COVID had ravaged my health in a matter of months, and the battle just felt too hard. Struggling to breathe and walk, I wondered if it was better to live or to die. The thought of leaving loved ones hurt too much to think about, but the thought of heaven caused my heart to ache too. In that dark place of pain, I cried out, asking God if I could live – though not for me, for Christ.
Paul’s words written to the church of Philippi during imprisonment echoed a similar sentiment as he recounted his struggles and whether it would be better to live or die. Yet, somehow in that suffering, he chose joy.
Paul invited the Philippians to see a higher goal of a life centered on Christ’s glory and purposes. (Philippians 1:18) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Through words written from a place of suffering, Paul revealed the secret to his inner joy. Joy wasn’t found through a life void of suffering. Joy wasn’t found by searching for it, either. It was the natural by-product of a life hidden in Christ.
Paul knew something that others around him did not know. He knew the end of his struggles – his deliverance – would come as faithful servants of God prayed for him. (Philippians 1:19) His faith was fixed on God’s promises, not on his circumstances.
Paul’s hope was set in the right place. He hoped that he would have courage and that Christ would be honored in him. (Philippians 1:20) Like the Psalmist, Paul’s hope was in God’s goodness rather than in a perfect life. (Psalm 27:13-14)
Paul found joy through perspective – realizing that joy does not last if it is fixed on the temporary. Joy is derived from being able to have a proper perspective in life’s hard places as our joy is fixed on God.
In the Old Testament, Job called out the truth that all human life is a struggle, (Job 7:1) and he made sure those around him knew it. Sometimes I want to make sure everyone knows how real my struggles are too. But when we walk through struggles as an opportunity for others to see Christ in us, we discover joy and help others to also.
As I fought for healing in the hospital, making myself get up and walk, praying, singing and studying Scripture, my thoughts shifted from fear and sorrow to an earnest desire for others to see Christ in me, and to comfort them with the comfort I had received. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
And then I discovered Paul’s secret. Paul wasn’t pursuing joy when he found it. It was Paul’s fight for God’s glory that led him to joy. Mine, too.