When you've almost reached the end of a deployment and homecoming gets delayed, how do you fight for joy? When you get the assignment of your nightmares, how do you rest in God's peace? When your child cries because daddy is missing her birthday, how do you help her find joy or seek peace yourself? In the midst of a PCS when everything is going wrong, but, ready or not, you're leaving to live in a foreign country the following week, how do you experience joy or peace?
That's been a question on my mind over and over again throughout military life. There are so many moments of joy and peace. Homecomings. Days filled with adventures exploring new areas together. Precious moments at home, all together as a family. Moments where God reveals His grace in new and awesome ways. But there are also so many moments when reality makes peace, let alone joy, hard to come by.
Rejoice always? Peace that surpasses understanding? Lord, how can you ask this of us?
It seems like a tall order at times. But there's a flaw in the way that we think about joy and peace, and how they relate to the challenges in our lives. Have you ever heard the saying, "God won't give you more than you can handle?" While that's a comforting thought, it isn't really true. The truth is that God won't give us more than HE can handle. All too often we think that the responsibility for challenges falls on us, when God really wants us to take it all to HIM.
If we look closely at what the Bible says about our joy and peace, we quickly see that God doesn't ask us to figure out how to experience these emotions in difficult circumstances through our willpower alone. He asks us first and foremost to choose Him.
The Peace Treaty
Before Christ paid our ransom, we were at odds with God because of our sinful and fallen nature. But through Christ’s sacrifice, God gives us peace when we place our trust in His Son. His blood on the cross signed and sealed the peace treaty between us and God, and it is the foundation for every experience of peace, and subsequently joy, in our lives. We “who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:13-14 ESV). He even sent us a Helper (John 14:16) to help us pursue the fruits of peace and joy (Galatians 5:22-23). Through Jesus, peace and joy are ours now and forever and we should do what God asks of us to boldly claim them.
So It Starts With Trust
Experiencing joy and peace throughout our everyday lives starts by trusting the promises God has given us through Christ. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (ESV). For those whose identity is in Jesus, He’s already worked the greatest miracle of all on your behalf — He has called you to Himself in salvation. If He can be trusted with authoring something so enormous in your life, the God who has promised to care for every sparrow and know every hair on your head can be trusted in every detail of your life.
The Opposite of Trusting is Controlling
All too often, our desire to control our outcomes dissolves our trust in God. The Old Testament and New Testament alike are filled with stories of people who sometimes responded well and sometimes responded very poorly to circumstances they could not control (see the stories of Joseph, David, Jonah, and Paul for examples). Yet, throughout these stories and the Bible, the main point is always that God is moving and weaving a story that He is in control of and it’s far better than what we could ever envision.
Our belief that we can really control anything in our lives is an illusion. As Matthew 6:27 reminds us, we can’t even do a “small thing” like adding an hour to our lives.
We have free will, which means that we can attempt to contrive an outcome in our lives, but all to often, what we want for ourselves is far inferior to what God ultimately wants for us. Meanwhile, God, who is present everywhere in the universe throughout all of eternity, knows what we truly need (Matthew 6:8), and as a loving Father, He longs to give it to us.
If we want to experience the peace and joy God offers us, we have to trust that He is working for our highest good in everything (Romans 8:28). In every PCS, deployment, and every other moment of military life, we have to choose to trust that He is in control and working for our good, just as He has in every other circumstance before.
Sometimes, though, joy and peace don’t come easily because life and hardship blind us by disrupting our trust. They throw roadblocks between us and the joy and peace Jesus promises us. God knew that “rejoicing always” and abiding in peace would be difficult in a world of tribulation (John 16:33), which is why the Bible talks a great deal more about joy and peace. Next week, we’ll dig further into ways we can call on the peace and joy we are promised in Christ.
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Our desire to control something often reveals an area in life where we are failing to trust God. What do you want to control in your life? How are you failing to trust God in that area?
Instead of fighting against God in the areas you want to control, how can you see that He could (and will) work for your highest good if you simply trust Him?
The book of Jonah in the Old Testament is just four chapters long. Find time to read the whole book this week. As you read, consider how Jonah failed to trust God, how he sought to control his circumstances, and how God’s will was better than Jonah’s.
Monday: Ephesians 2:13-14
Tuesday: Acts 13:52, Psalms 4:7-8
Wednesday: John 14:16
Thursday: Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 8:32
Friday: Matthew 6:27, Matthew 6:8
Saturday: Romans 8:28, John 16:33