A lit candle in the darkness illustrates finding joy in our trials.

Finding Joy When Life is Hard

Many years ago when my husband and I struggled to have children of our own, I also struggled to have joy. Miscarriages shook me. Disappointment colored my world. Every Sunday in church, I sobbed through every song during the worship service. You might think I cried because finding joy seemed like an impossibility. But I actually cried because I so clearly felt God’s presence. It’s hard to explain, but a profound joy in my Creator mingled with my grief. Tears resulted.

In Psalm 16, David, one of the most celebrated kings of Israel, writes this: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It’s important to note that David faced many significant trials in his life. King Saul constantly pursued him to kill him, fearing David wanted to take his throne. And though David despaired, he always trusted in God.

Today we will look into finding joy even when we’re in the midst of severe trials. How is that possible? Because we base our joy on the presence of God.

The Definition of Joy

It’s important to understand our terms first. While happiness and joy may appear to be the same, there are differences. Happiness finds its root in circumstances, which constantly change. Joy dwells in the character of God, which never changes. It’s interesting to note that the New Testament, in most modern English translations, does not use the word “happy.” The Greek word makários most often means “blessed, fortunate, receiving God’s favor.”

A woman in a checkered shirt holds a sign with the letters J-O-Y to aid people in finding joy.

The Greek word chará shows up many more times in the New Testament. It means “calm delight, gladness, joy.” It might seem subtle, but the difference is important. Let’s focus on finding joy in the Lord and learning how to keep it despite our circumstances.

Finding Joy in Trials

Many people, upon first reading the words of James in his letter to the scattered Jews, think, How is that even possible? What are those words? “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” I’m leaving that comma in there to show there’s more to his sentence: the because. Why should we find joy in trials? Nobody likes trials! But here’s the rest of the statement: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Other translators use “patience” or “endurance” in place of “steadfastness.” The Greek word hypomoné means “perseverance, patient endurance, patient awaiting.” Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy [chará] set before him endured [hypomoné] the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Buds on a tree remind us that finding joy in trials leads to perseverance.

We can we count it all joy because we know that if we patiently persevere, we will reach our reward: eternity in heaven with Jesus. This life, James tells us, is a mist, appearing for a little while and then vanishing. Forever is longer than this.

Listen to a sample of this guided meditation from Abide based on James 1:2 and remember that you can find joy in your trials because God always surrounds you.

Worshipping God Brings Joy

Psalm 95 contains so much about coming to God in thanksgiving and worship, and when you acknowledge God’s faithfulness, His goodness, His love, joy results. When circumstances threaten to overwhelm me, I look to the rock of my salvation and know that I am safe and cared for. It’s like feeling your beloved father wrapping you in a hug and saying, “I got you. You’re going to be okay.” It’s not a bubbling up of laughter and happiness; it’s a deep satisfaction of peace, of shalom.

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

Psalm 95:1-7, English Standard Version

Listen to a short segment of this Abide meditation based on Psam 95:1-2.

Seeing God Work Brings Joy

I had a pastor who told a story of parents with a very sick child and all they could pray was that God would let them hear “a good report.” Dab-by-day, they just needed to know there was hope. When hard circumstances seem to reign, sometimes we just need a small sign that God is at work to help us rekindle our joy.

A potter's hands shaping clay remind us that God is always working and we can be finding joy in His work.

The evidence of God’s hand in someone else’s life can bring that spark of joy because it reminds us that God still works and He’s still good. When life was dark and hard for the Jewish people, John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus as the light of the world. His cry of “behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!” lit the flame of joy.

Here’s a sample of a meditation from Abide on witnessing joy around you.

Finding Joy in Being Loved by God

There’s a beautiful verse in the first part of Peter’s letter to “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” This is what Peter wrote to them: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

How precious is the love of God. Let your love for Him fill you with that inexpressible joy Peter wrote about. Remember who Peter is, all that he saw Jesus do, how he denied Him before His crucifixion, and the restoration Jesus brought beside the lake. And through the rest of his life, Peter would endure persecution to the point of being put to death by the Romans. And yet he could write about inexpressible joy.

Listen to this short sample of a meditation from Abide based on 1 Peter 1:8.

When you’re finding joy hard to experience, look for how God is working around you, praise Him for who He is, and remember His great and enduring love for you.

You can find many meditations on joy—and dozens of other topics—in the Abide app. Download it now and get 25% off a premium subscription with this link.

Stephanie Reeves is a senior content producer for Guideposts.