Perhaps the most important paradigm shift that you and I need to make in our default way of thinking in order for our thinking to be converted to a Christian way of thinking is shifting to thinking of joy as something that can exist IN THE MIDST of suffering, not after it.
Basically it’s the shift from either/or thinking to both/and.
It’s easy to think, “when the anxiety is over, then I’ll experience joy.” Or “when the suffering is over, then joy will be possible.”
We might even expect to read, in Paul’s prison epistles, that when Paul gets out of prison he’ll experience joy.
But that’s not what we read. Paul is professing joy in the midst of an anxious/worrisome/fearful/maybe even panicky situation. Is he going to be released? Maybe. Is he going to be put to death? Possible. Eventually, he is.
And Paul is not just professing joy in the midst of persecution and prison, but he’s inviting others to press in to find true joy in the midst of their suffering.
And that’s risky.
Accepting Paul’s invitation to find joy in the midst of suffering/trouble/worrisome situations… that’s risky.
It’s relatively easy to say, when the pain stops, you’ll feel better.
When the cancer goes away, you’ll be happy again.
When the conflict in your family ends, you’ll be joyful.
But we don’t need joy after the pain, we need joy in the midst of the pain.
And that’s what Paul is declaring is possible.
Believing it is risky. Pressing into that joy even as the challenging situation remains challenging is risky.
It’s much easier to lower your expectations, decide “this is probably as good as it gets for me” and to try to force your soul to be satisfied with what is in fact a disappointment.
In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”