Re-considering joy in the face of a difficult life

I've been focusing a lot lately on the idea of joy. I've noted in my studies that the words ‘joy’ or ‘rejoice’ shows up throughout the entire Bible over 400 times, whereas the word ‘happy’ shows up only around 10 times. There is obviously a very clear distinction in the Bible between the value of joy versus the value of happiness.

As I've looked at this, I've been mainly captured by the passage in James chapter 1:2-4 which implores the reader to,

Consider it pure joy sisters and brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that it is the testing of your faith which develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

There are two main things in my life lately that are causing me much struggle in order to consider them pure joy.

1. I have lived with Multiple Sclerosis now for 20 years. In the last three or four, I have lost the use of my legs and now use a mobility scooter to get around now. This disease keeps taking, not just from me, but from my family too. There are many side effects that come along with MS which makes basic things very difficult for me and us.

2. Lately I have felt like I am swimming upstream when it comes to trying to convince the church to get on board with moving from Charity to Justice. In fact, sometimes it feels as though there is a tsunami coming straight at me.

I very much am talking about caring, compassionate, spirit-filled Christian people. I have no question about that. My problem is that we have unintentionally taught ourselves inside the church about the value of charity, but almost never on the necessity of justice.

The church knows better than anyone how to make a good casserole and bring it to a hungry family. It also knows how to write a cheque or go and buy groceries for someone in need.

Don't get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. But when I ask if someone can sign up to befriend someone who moves into their neighborhood who doesn't necessarily have any community, it feels at times like pulling teeth.

To ask someone to spend an hour a week over coffee with someone and build a mutually beneficial friendship is to risk going too far out of a person's understanding and I'm often met with blank stares with the request.

These two are indeed trials, yet James asks me to consider them pure joy?

Oh dear.

Sometimes, to be honest, the only real joy I get from some of this is when I swear under my breath at some of the frustrations that come my way.

The only thing that brings me some comfort in the midst of my confusion on this is that Jesus understood trials and suffering more than anyone. And He demonstrated 'joy' in the midst of excruciating pain while He was being crucified on a cross. (Hebrews 12:2) In fact, His pain seems to have caused Him 'pure joy,'

Oh just to be able to emulate Jesus in that, even a tiny bit. What a challenge for me and for us!

Back to James; at least he didn't say to consider ourselves 'happy' when we face trials of many kinds.

That would've been a deal breaker.



I'm not gonna lie;
You often confuse me.
Life is hard.
Why does it have to be this way?
Why can't you make it easier for me?
Why can't you make it easier for others?
I guess you're using me,
My struggle,
My pain,
My trials of many kinds,
My joy,
For your good.
Give me the strength,
The wisdom,
The patience,
To consider everything that comes my way,
Pure joy.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Dion Oxford is the Mission Strategist for The Salvation Army's five homeless shelters in Toronto, called Housing and Homeless Supports Dion along with his wife, Erinn, and daughter, Cate, live in Toronto and are committed to journeying alongside people in the margins of society. He blogs at

About the author