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When God Turned My Sorrow to Joy

Written By Callie Opper, USA

In every person’s life, I believe that there is a defining moment when we suddenly come to realize how small we are compared with God, and how small we are compared with the problems that can overwhelm us. For me, that moment happened on my 14th birthday.

That was when my family received news that my mom had been diagnosed with leukemia. Almost exactly a month later, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t know how to process the news. It rocked my world. And because the seemingly perfect world that I had known was now crumbling around me, I did the only thing I could at the time—I pretended to be strong, even though I was crumbling inwardly. I truly believed that I needed to be strong to make it through something like this, and for God to heal my parents.

As a child growing up in a Christian environment, I had heard time and time again that when life gets hard, we’re supposed to trust God, and when tragedy hits, we should feel unshaken because He’s on our side. But when the storm hit me, I didn’t feel this automatic trust in God’s plan, and I started to believe that He was giving up on me because of my doubts. I had accepted Christ at the age of nine and prayed a prayer whose meaning I knew, but I didn’t understand what it really meant to follow Jesus.

Because of this trial, I found myself feeling alone, even though I was surrounded by so many people who loved me. I let this feeling of abandonment take root and became insecure about myself; I began to doubt if God was present in my world because He didn’t heal my mom. And because I craved attention and belonging, I let the world define who I was. Inwardly, I was running away from the one person who promises to never abandon us; I blocked my heart and mind from letting Him heal the hurt in me.

Over a year after my mom was diagnosed, she passed away. I had to get used to a new normal—a life without her. I kept up an external image that seemed to show a deep trust in God, but inwardly I was confused and lost. I kept asking why, and I became bitter as I watched my dad fall in love again and we moved out of my childhood home.

I believe that God does not forsake us. He pursues us and over time, slowly breaks down the walls of our hearts.

Shortly after my mother’s passing, I signed up for a mission trip to China. But it was for a selfish reason—I wanted to leave the country to escape my world and to get away from the tragedy that surrounded me and my family.

My plans, however, were drastically changed; God had plans to reveal the selfishness of my heart and to truly heal it. One day, on a mountain in China, He used a place of isolation to make me face the weight of the pain I had been feeling and my rebellion against Him, and He revealed to me the condition of my heart. For the first time in my life, I found myself vulnerable before Him. He broke me down using one verse: “In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds” (2 Cor 7:4). While I had gone to China to escape, God brought me to a place of quiet retreat, to sit in His presence and to experience His life transformation.

I didn’t know what true joy was, but in that one moment, I knew I wanted it. I started pleading with the Lord for joy, to confidently trust in His plans, His ways, and the story He had started writing for me. And it was from that one single moment that God started to break down my walls, to refine me, and to teach me what joy means.

Over the next few years, God chiseled away at my heart to reveal emotions I had not wanted to face, grief that was unresolved, and lies that I had believed about God and myself.

He showed me that joy looks a lot like vulnerability. Joy is not a temporal happiness, but a deep-rooted contentment in God’s plan, which we know is for our good and His purposes. Joy does not mean I will wake up with a smile on my face every day; it does not mean that I will always be rejoicing in my sorrows and in the storms. Rather, it is choosing to see God’s higher purposes when everything is crumbling. Joy is a daily choice. It’s laughing and embracing the tears when they come.

God taught me that being weak is so much greater than being strong. Our weakness proclaims our need to depend on the Lord utterly. He has taught me that it’s okay to not be okay. He welcomes our doubting and invites us to wrestle with Him when we don’t understand what He is doing.

The beautiful thing that I learned about God is that He never gives up on us. He will never stop pursuing our hearts even when we try to run. He will go into the deep and dark places of our hearts to pull us out and to prove that He is good.

I have seen God turn my brokenness into beauty. He has removed the bitterness I held on to tightly for years, by giving me people to walk with me. He used the brokenness of my mom’s death to show me the reality of how short life is, to teach me what it means to value others, and to show me that every second matters. He has showed me the importance of loving and living well, and how much people and relationships matter.

God has been faithful to me in this journey. He has given me so many glimpses of His purposes for my mom’s death. He has given me complete joy and has taught me to embrace weakness, to cling to Him, and to live vulnerably. He has taught me to accept grief. He has shown me that hiding and running from the storms that He allows is useless.

I believe that God weaves unique stories for everyone. He creates masterpieces out of our lives and weaves the deepest pain into something far more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Life is a gift, and the story of our lives, no matter what it looks like, paints a radiant picture of the gospel. Our stories are all about Him and His glory alone.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music, on my stringed instruments.”—Habakkuk 3

Last year I got a tattoo in my mother’s hand writing to remind me of the faithfulness of God, to keep me grounded in Him, and in the meaning of joy.

Is It Possible to Rejoice Always?

Written By Rebekah Lamorena, New Zealand

In the midst of never-ending to-do lists, changes in my workplace, and pressure coming from all directions, joy has, at times, seemed more like a distant figure rather than a constant companion. I have been frustrated, anxious, doubtful, stressed—sometimes, all at once.

Feeling down or anxious isn’t the easiest thing to talk about, especially as a Christian. In fact, a lot of us would rather conceal our doubts, worries and anxious thoughts because, hey, we’re Christians. We’re supposed to be content, happy and positive all the time, aren’t we?

But the truth is this: no one is immune to pain, suffering and anxiety. Not even the most seemingly happy or positive people.

How do we rejoice always?

 How then are Christians supposed to rejoice in broken, bleak, and busy times? It’s one thing to talk about being joyful in all situations (1 Thessalonians 5:16), but to live it out? That’s a different story. What are we supposed to do when our joy has been taken from us? When we are defeated, doubtful and down, how and where are we supposed to refill our joy tanks?

Earlier this year, I learned that the word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en theos” which, when translated, means “in God”. That alone says a lot. In order for us to remain enthusiastic, which includes being joyful, we have to continually find our joy in God first, even when—and especially when—we don’t feel like it.

The Apostle Paul is a great example. In the darkest days of his life, he penned some of the most positive and hopeful words in the Bible. He faced adversity, persecution, disaster and hardship, and yet he never ceased to believe that God would see him through his many trials.

Paul’s life is proof that though joy cannot be forced, it can still be experienced in difficult situations. He remained enthusiastic, joyful and hopeful in God even in the worst conditions. He rejoiced, not in his own will and courage, but in God. His hope was not in his situation, in himself or others—his hope was in God.

Paul instructs us to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, Philippians 4:4). It isn’t written as a recommendation, but as a command. And God never gives commandments that we cannot keep. Hence, when God says “rejoice always”, I believe that we are more than capable of doing so. Paul was no extraordinary person. He wasn’t invincible. He wasn’t immune to all kinds of pain. He was just like us. If he can rejoice, then so can we.

Sometimes it can be incredibly hard to make sense of the not-so-great things that happen, but I’ve come to find that when our joy is anchored in God, our lives don’t have to be dictated by anxiety, denial, or despair.

I remember being filled with worry and doubt as I neared the end of my university studies and internship. I had no job lined up and my inbox was full of rejection letters. My mind was plagued with uncertainty about what the future would bring, but eventually God brought this word to me: “God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks” (Lamentations 3:25).

The best thing that came out of obeying God was finding out later what He had for me all along. Despite what I was feeling and despite the delays, I decided to cling to God’s word, and let me tell you—God met me more than halfway. Since my university days, God has showered favor upon favor on my life, and by His grace I have been able to go further than I could have ever imagined.

Though that season was a long time ago, I still think about it from time to time. Through it, God continues to remind and challenge me that the abundant life He has for me does not depend on my emotions. By God, through God and in God, I can always choose to rejoice despite my circumstances.

 

Experience it for yourself

 I am learning that prayer and time reading God’s Word should always be my first response, and not my last resort. I have found that the more time I spend reading and reflecting on His word, the less likely I am to be moved by my temporary feelings.

If you are feeling doubtful, disheartened and defeated today, I encourage you to be bold enough to find hope and joy in God, and not in yourself or your circumstance. Dare to believe the promises He has for you. As soon as troubling thoughts enter your head, combat them with God’s truth.

Pressure may come at you from all directions, but God’s Word says that we don’t have to be defeated and destroyed by the situations that face us.  In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul writes: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

You may be heartbroken, but God’s Word says you are never alone: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

You may be troubled by anxious thoughts, but God’s Word says His peace is just one prayer away: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:5-7).

Through challenging seasons, through my shortcomings and through the frailty of my own heart, God continues to shower me with a “despite anything, through anything, in anything” kind of joy—one that is full, vast, unrivalled and enduring.

Your disposition does not have to be dictated by delays, dead ends, and disappointments. With God, you can always face the facts of your life, and still believe He is good and at work. It is what it is, but it’s not how it seems. There is always joy to be found in and beyond the challenges that come our way. When I first experienced heartbreak, I found myself already thanking God for what He was about to do in my life. I thanked God for giving me joy and for already setting me free? from heartbreak, doubt, fear and loneliness. And slowly but surely, it worked.

Praise precedes victory. Even when your situation seems hopeless and impossible, thank Him anyway. God in His grace can cause His beauty to be seen in the toughest of places. No, you may not have it all together all the time. No, you may not be stress-free, worry-free, problem-free . . . but you can rejoice in God anyway.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes me feel like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17).

The Fig Tree

Title: The Fig Tree
Materials: Watercolor
Artwork by: Laura Morgan
Description: I hardly ever have reason to fly without familiar companions, so before my flight home from Texas–where I was visiting friends–I prayed that God would bless the interactions with my seatmates. God answered that request in an unforgettable way.

During my flight from Texas, the young man seated next to me started up a conversation, introducing himself as Minh. We exchanged the typical get-to-know-you information, which quickly opened the door for me to tell him about the near fatal accident I was involved in years ago.

Because of the accident and the tough rehabilitation that followed, I shared that I was stripped raw by having so many of the things I loved and had worked so hard for taken away from me (my job in speech pathology, lifelong musical endeavors, sports of running and rock climbing, even many of my spiritual opportunities, like in leading small groups and being invited to become a deacon).

Although I experienced great sadness over all these losses, I consider it a great grace I was given in that I did not experience anger towards Him. I honestly didn’t have questions of why a good God allowed this horrible accident to happen.

Minh also encouraged me from Habakkuk 3:17-19. Habakkuk had every reason to despair; yet his security remained intact enough to even “rejoice in the Lord” (verse 18). I can only imagine the anguish Habakkuk was enduring and I can’t help but be encouraged by Habakkuk’s response and the way he has learned to rejoice in his immense suffering, finding strength and joy in God alone. Let us also find our source of joy to be completely outside of and beyond whatever that could impact our lives on earth.

 

 

Burned Out And Guilty At Work

Written By Katarina Tathya Ratri, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

In March 2017, I had a burnout.

It came five months after I moved from my hometown in Central Java to the capital city of Jakarta to work as an area manager in a food and beverage company. As a manager, I’m in charge of overseeing some outlets and ensuring that their quality, service, cleanliness, and sales meet the company’s standards. This also includes telling staff who don’t do their job well enough to pull up their socks.

Initially, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to adapt to my new surroundings. Reality, however, couldn’t have been more different. Many situations at work made me cry, and I found myself finishing work late every night and even having to work on vacations. Pointing out my subordinates’ mistakes was also extremely difficult, as most of them had been working in the company for a lot longer than I had. Many were also older than me, and spoke to me rudely.

When I told my best friends and my boyfriend about my problems, they tried to cheer me up—but it didn’t really help. I ended up trying my best to “ignore” work and not finish my tasks, even though this made me feel guilty.

One Sunday at church, I listened to a sermon on God’s appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses. He said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I read this verse, I was reminded of my own struggles at work and encouraged to face my problems bravely.

However, when Monday rolled around the corner and reminded me about the reality of work, I felt afraid again, and began to come up with ideas about how to avoid my responsibilities. I asked God for His forgiveness for doubting Him, but the process just kept repeating itself every day.

One night, I came down with a high fever and didn’t even have strength to go to the doctor on my own. I called my boyfriend, and he flew from Bandung to Jakarta to take me to a clinic. When the doctor told me that my illness was due to the stress I faced at work, I nodded in agreement.

That was when my boyfriend and I decided that we should take a break from work and go on a trip around Jakarta. During the trip however, my boyfriend’s wallet got stolen while we were taking a bus. The guilt of having caused this indirectly, mixed with sadness and anger, made me cry.

To my amazement, I saw that my boyfriend was still smiling. He told me that he believed everything would work together for good, even though the situation seemed bad. Upon hearing this, I felt ashamed. Over the rest of the trip, I reflected and realized that I had never really surrendered myself fully to God’s plan.

Since that time, I have changed the way I respond to my situation. Whenever I am troubled by work, I try to remember what made me initially decide to take up this job—to hone my skills as a leader. At the time, I knew that this job wouldn’t be easy, and that it entailed leading people who were older and more experienced than me. I found 1 Timothy 4:12 inspiring: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

This verse has strengthened me and given me the courage to do this job. I know that through this job, God is shaping me according to His will. He has helped me to learn how to remain humble amid challenges and to learn from the difficulties that I face, such as trying to meet my supervisor’s tough demands.

God has also given me many second chances. As I recall how I used to respond to my problems—simply ignoring my tasks—I realize that I deserved to be punished or even fired. Yet God never left me when I was down, nor when I made mistakes. Instead, He helped me and gave me the strength to carry on. All I need to do is to keep learning to lean on and surrender to Him fully.

Now, whenever I start work, I always make time to pray first. I used to ask God to spare me and take away all my struggles and challenges, but now, I have learned to ask God for the mental and spiritual strength to go through each day. I want to be able to smile and experience the joy of the Lord even when others treat me badly.

I have also learned to be patient when I face problems or difficult people. With people at work, I try to stay joyful and have a deeper conversation with them. Even though I know that there will always be people who will not fully accept me as a leader, I am encouraged by those who are slowly starting to open up to me. God has changed me—from a person who used to give up easily and run away from others’ negative responses, to someone who would approach those who are hostile to me and even talk to them about things relating to their personal lives.