Joy comes not from what happens to us, but how we respond —the kind of attitudes we have about those experiences. We need not feel like helpless victims of circumstance.
No matter what predicament we are in, we should ask ourselves: How does God want me to view it and feel about it? Then we can choose —with His help—to have that frame of mind.
A good illustration of this is the apostle Paul’s life. If anyone in history could be excused for wallowing in self-pity and thinking “woe is me” because of frequent severe hardships, it would be Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brothers;
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which comes on me daily, the care of all the churches.
American King James Version×).
Before God called him, Paul was hard-hearted and angry, persecuting and executing Christians. But after his conversion, he was transformed into a loving and joyous person—partly because he understood the magnificent generosity of God’s grace and mercy.
Ironically, of all the books of the Bible, among the most joyful are the “prison epistles”—letters written by Paul while enduring an imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16-31 Acts 28:16-31 16 And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.
17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said to them, Men and brothers, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18 Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.
19 But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.
20 For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
21 And they said to him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning you, neither any of the brothers that came showed or spoke any harm of you.
22 But we desire to hear of you what you think: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.
23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet to our fathers,
26 Saying, Go to this people, and say, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive:
27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
28 Be it known therefore to you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.
30 And Paul dwelled two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in to him,
31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
American King James Version×). They are the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. A man whom we would expect to need encouragement was giving encouragement!
Paul referred to his intense suffering as “light affliction” compared with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” that awaits God’s servants at the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:17 2 Corinthians 4:17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
American King James Version×; see also Romans 8:18 Romans 8:18For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
American King James Version×). What a great attitude!
Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11 Philippians 4:11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
American King James Version×). Contentment is a large part of joy.