take joy in the Lord painting on the table
take joy in the lord painting

These Long, Hard-Pressed Days

I didn’t come into Advent knowing it would squish me like Flat Stanley. This of all weeks, I thought it would come easy. I didn’t know I would have to take joy.

My workload has been heavier than any month is the past 20 years. I turned off the lights at school twice last week. I spent my very precious (sure, think Gollum) “off” days at home writing reports, not Christmas cards. Add some big burdens at home and, more than once, I chose self-pity and resentment.

I did not choose joy.

What Even Is Christian Joy? 

Like biblical hope and biblical peace, biblical joy is tethered to Jesus Christ—his salvation, his promises, himself. It is the good feeling in our souls when we focus on God’s grace to us. It is independent of circumstances. Elisabeth Elliot was spot on, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” 

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” 

—Elisabeth Elliot

For the record, our emotional toggle is not pre-set to joy. We must slide it, again and again. This side of heaven, joy is interrupted. Even though it’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), it is also a pursuit. Paul wrote, “we work with you for your joy.” Like love, peace, and patience, joy is both a fruit and a pursuit.

We must go a-stalking.

Get Past the Dragon

Stalk is a strong word. But “to pursue obsessively” is exactly what I mean. Anything less than obsessive pursuit and the dragon of despair would have had me for lunch.

But I was after it.

Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest…“The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”

—Flannery O’Connor, in a 1956 Letter quoted here

I love that image. I live that image.  

5 Ways to Take Joy

This hard-pressed week, it looked like this:

  1. Singing carols. I did this alone, but we around our Advent wreath we three sang “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “While By Our Sheep.” (Joy, Joy, Joy!) No, not the VeggieTale version. (Baa, Baa, Baa!) My son wouldn’t allow it.
  2. Reading Scripture. I am finishing the Bible in a year and an epistle a day brings good cheer. How can we read, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3:4) and not rejoice? 
  3. Confessing sin. I didn’t intend it, but one thing led to another at our family Christmas and the Spirit convicted of an ugly attitude. I confessed and found mercy and my soul was healed. I am forgiven, and have new resolve to pray. 
  4. Seeking the sun. My house in the woods drives me to it, and not just in these short days. Sunrise glimpses and sunset strolls slid the toggle this week. Thankfully, my years in the shade have trained me to look up the sunbeam to the Son. 
  5. Texting a friend. Can you walk? She could and we did. This sister in Christ is queen of the walk and talk. Her kind ear and soft heart, over a perfect pace, refresh my soul. I decompressed in five miles, and good cheer prevailed.

Do you see? I was relentless in my hunt.

Do You Have Troubles? 

The prophet Habakkuk did too. So he wrote a poem. It, too, has been on my mind this Advent week. 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

—Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)

When his circumstances pressed him hard, Habakkuk took joy.

He chose to rejoice. 

Pastor Kevin DeYoung calls this choice “the mark of God-centered defiance…. a rebellion of joy.” Someone called it a discipline. My friend Sarah calls it valiant.

I agree with both. Choosing joy shows courage and determination.

Taking joy is a valiant, rebellious act of God-centered defiance.

Taking joy is a valiant, rebellious act of God-centered defiance. Stalking with sin crouching at our door is dangerous. The enemy would like nothing more than to keep us listless. He desires to have us.

But we don’t take joyless days lying down. We work for it and pray for it and go where it js found. 

Where Is Joy Found?


In the Lord. Not in our wealth, or our health. Not in our personal or national security. But in the only constant and sure security: God himself. But God gives means. Those five ways I described, were my hurdling joy blockers, pushing my way to Him.

Habakkuk did that. He pushed into God’s presence. We can too. Our hard-pressed circumstances need not limit our joy. 

Because Immanuel. In his presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). 

Will You Rejoice in the Lord Today?

I can’t remember the first time someone challenged me to personalize Habakkuk 3:17-18, but I do know that re-writing it restored my joy. I’d love to see your personalized Habakkuk 3, “Yet I” poem.

Fill in the blanks with six of your own hard things. Then, read it all aloud. All of it.

Though the ___________ does not _________, and  ____________ has no ____________.
And the ________ and ___________, and __________ and __________;
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

With you, for our progress and joy in the faith,


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