I was depressed. Trapped by hopelessness and despair, I could see no way out. My guilt intensified because I was growing a baby within my body, a tiny person trapped inside me, feeling my every emotion, floating in a noxious bath of misery.
Why did you send this baby to me, God, only for me to taint before he is even born?
I still talked to the Lord, but my mind rejected genuine prayer. I scorned the Word. My heart despised the church. My mouth refused to sing. Once beloved spiritual practices had vanished. What was I to do?
Startled by the phone, I answered in my false cheerful voice, surprised to find my mom’s good friend and intercessor who has prayed for me since I was a little girl. She rarely phones me, but when she does, I know it is important.
“Hi Honey, I’ll get to the point because I know you’re busy. The Lord gave me a word for you. He said that the baby in your womb will be a child of joy. This child will know the delight of His presence. Holy Spirit gave me Psalm 16:11, ‘. . . you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal promises at your right hand.’ He has done this for this baby. It is His delight to give good gifts to His children.”
Salty tears wetted my cheeks as I mumbled my thanks. For the first time, a tiny glimmer of joy stirred faintly in my heart. God is the Provider, not me. God is the Savior, not me. God is able when I am not. In fact, God’s strength is revealed in all its glory most when I am weak.
This friend did not phone with a hopeful message because she knew my plight. I strove to keep my struggle hidden, and instead portray to the world my preferred always-thriving-and-overcoming persona. But I could not hide my depression from my husband. In fact, I did not want to. How satisfying to regularly release the dam wall of vile emotion that had built up during a day of faking and coping.
I was a perfect case study for cultivating joy. The faint flicker of hope that stirred deep below the surface hinted at the possibility of change, but it was hardly enough to light a cheery flame. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar season. You may not be depressed, but do you struggle with other anti-joy conditions like busyness, fear, laziness, hurt, unbelief, shame, or bitterness? Have you identified the condition of heart that resists joy in your life?
This is your chance. Take a moment and ask God to name your nemesis.
When you identify your personal stumbling block to joy, give it up to God with a simple prayer, “Father, I want this condition removed from my life so that joy can thrive. This is my desire.”
God’s Word encourages us that nothing is too difficult for Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. He longs to shower us with every good gift. His blessings are not hidden away, reserved only for those who are good enough to deserve them, but rather His blessings reach out and rush to overtake us.
No one is good enough to deserve the Lord’s generosity. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. We are all equally desperate for God’s redemption. As hard as we try, we cannot be good enough to deserve joy — it is a gift from the Lord. In the Psalms, David encourages us that God longs to meet us with blessings from His hand, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (ESV)
Can it be that simple?
All I have to do is delight in the Lord? Surely more is required of me. My human-centered thinking tells me that I do not deserve good gifts unless I earn them. The dreadful possibility of coal in my stocking at Christmastime threatens to withhold blessing unless I behave, unless I am a good girl. Despite my strenuous attempts to hold it all together and present my best self to the world, God knows that I am naughty and not nice.
The mocking and scornful Accuser reminds me of all the reasons I do not deserve joy:
“I heard you scream in anger. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“If your friends could see you right now, they would be shocked.”
“You did what? And you call yourself a Christian?! That’s a joke.”
While these accusations may be true, God offers another perspective. He is the God of restoration, not of condemnation. Sure, He sees our sin, but Holy Spirit conviction invites us close to His heart where we discover acceptance instead of rejection. The Father reaches out to lavish His love on a hurting young woman trapped in the grip of depression, even though her heart was cool to Him. He reached out when she could not.
When we are at our lowest point, punched in the stomach by the Accuser, the breath of hope knocked out of us, Jesus offers the gift of redemption, purchased on the cross long before we did anything to deserve it:
“[Christ} doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
Romans 5:6-8 (The Message)
God does not wait for us to be good enough to deserve joy. He knows that we are unable to earn such a gift with our own efforts. Because we are utterly dependent on unmerited favor, His grace reaches out to give us the desires of our hearts. Even when we are distracted by the cares of this world or burdened by sin, He works tirelessly behind the scenes to draw us back to a life of abundance, to comfort our fears and sorrows with the promise of His salvation.
Just as He provided for that little baby in my womb, and gradually rescued me from depression, He cares for you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. No matter how far you feel from His presence, in a single moment, He can gather you up in His arms and comfort you in your distress. He desires to show you unmerited favor. Receive. It is yours. May you become His child of joy.