Hanging on to Joy When Life Gets Hard

Josiah BancroftBy Josiah Bancroft7 Minutes

Over the past years, my wife, Barbara, and I have faced profound losses that reshaped our lives. We both lost our mothers. Then contracting Covid last summer further disrupted everything, as we battled the virus and its lingering effects. Even now, a year later, I find myself grappling with the daily limitations of Long Covid, a constant reminder of life’s unpredictability.

Now, with the release of my book on Philippians, Paul’s teachings have challenged me once again. I am finding that my daily experience of grace and joy needs to “catch up” with my current challenging circumstances, and I’m having to relearn the very lessons of joy that I wrote about!

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is well-known for its expressions of joy, remarkable given the fact that Paul wrote it while in a Roman jail. But joy is not the center of Paul’s message. Instead, Philippians centers around the truths about Jesus and what he has done for us.

In such a hard season with so many losses, hanging onto joy has not been easy. But Paul is not just writing to the church in Philippi; he is also writing to you and me, no matter what situations we find ourselves in. Here are a few ways this journey is strengthening my grip on Christ and my determination to live a life of joy:

Joy comes when I intentionally rejoice in the Lord.

In Philippians 3:3, Paul beautifully explains the concept of rejoicing. There, he says, I can worship by the Spirit and glory in Christ rather than in my own abilities or efforts. The word glory is often translated boast. As I delve into Philippians 2 and 3, it becomes clear why I can honestly and gladly boast about Jesus. Learning more about who he is and about the profound depth of what he has done in making me righteous before God, sparks joy in my heart. The richness of this knowledge uplifts my spirit and fills my life with newfound joy even amidst difficult circumstances. Like Paul, l don’t have to be in denial about my sin or suffering. But at the same time, no matter what, I can intentionally rejoice in the midst of it.

Paul rejoiced and called Jesus Lord even though he was a prisoner of the Roman emperor Nero.

Don’t miss Paul’s audacity. In a Roman jail, under guard, awaiting a death sentence in Nero’s Rome, to the Christians in Philippi (the leading city in Macedonia and a Roman colony), Paul writes: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10–11). Paul, as a citizen of heaven, proclaims the Lordship of Christ even in his imprisonment. No wonder the praetorian guards listened. The victory and the coming revelation of Jesus makes me rejoice in him. Even in our present turmoil, my heart sings, “King of kings. Lord of lords. And he shall reign forever and ever.”

When I focus on Jesus as the gospel reveals him, every aspect of my life takes on a new perspective through the lens of my relationship with God. I find myself living out of my new identity as a cherished child and a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). With Paul, I, too, confidently call Jesus, Lord. This secure faith viewpoint has the power to transform my expectations, reveal to me my rightful place with God, and infuse my life with a renewed sense of purpose even when I feel imprisoned in my own difficulties. Embracing this profound truth allows me to navigate through challenges with hope and joy, knowing that I am anchored in the unshakable love and grace of my Heavenly Father.

Philippians reminds me that God will complete what he started.

In all honesty, I often forget this truth. My focus shifts from what God has done and is doing to what I think I should be doing. I must remember and believe that God began a good work in me, and he will bring it all the way to completion on his good timeline (Philippians 1:6).

While his work in me is not yet complete, he is not worried about where I am at this moment. I am not alone, and it is not up to me. Our God comes to us, his people, opens our eyes, gives faith to believe, and draws us to himself. And then God makes sure that nothing—not suffering, not our own sin, not the sin of others against us—ever separates us from his love again. Right now, God is working in us. We are firmly in the grip of his grace. And that is worth rejoicing about.

Through the crucible of pain and loss, as I relearn these profound truths, it’s becoming clear again to me that the true joy I seek can only come as I set my heart on rejoicing in the Lord at all times. Only he will carry me through each day.

Together, we can discover the profound ways Jesus brings us closer to experiencing lasting joy amidst life’s challenges.

Order your copy of Philippians: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard by Josiah D. Bancroft IV