Why So Little Joy and Peace in Believers?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

What a beautiful vision of the Christian life, a life filled with all joy and peace as we trust in Him. It’s a great aspiration.

In a series of talks John Ortberg did with Dallas Willard just before Willard’s death, he recounted a conversation that he had with Dallas about churches:

During one of the first times Dallas and I talked, I asked about the churches. Some churches are great at music and worship. Some churches are effective at evangelism or reaching folks outside of them. Other churches are teaching factories. Others are great at assimilating people. And still others are good at acts of justice and compassion. But, I asked Dallas, where are the churches that are producing abnormally loving and joyful, patient, courageous people in inexplicably high percentages?

It’s a great question. Why don’t we see more joyful, hopeful, and patient Christians? Is it even possible to see Christians who are “abnormally loving and joyful”?

I think it is. I also think that the benediction or blessing in Romans 15:13 reveals God’s heart for what He wants the Gospel do to in the lives of His people. This is what God’s kingdom and rule in our lives is all about: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit . . .” (Romans 14:17).

As we think about this, we must remember that the joy, hope, and peace we experience is a work of God. Paul prays that God would create joy and peace as they trust in Him. He prays that the Holy Spirit would fill them with peace. It is first and foremost God’s work.

This does not mean that in another sense it is not also our work. Being joyful in hope is a gift from God, and it is a responsibility of human beings. It is something we are called to do: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).

We must also recognize that even though joy, peace, and hope are a divine gift, their development in our character is a divinely-governed process. The Apostle Paul says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). We experience suffering, and our response to suffering enables us to grow. It is an opportunity for growth.

Though God is the primary agent in this process of transforming our character, we have a part to play. Moreover, we have a part to play in the growth of other people. God gives us internal power and illumination, instructs us in a new mindset through His Word, enables us to implement that mindset in suffering, and provides His church as an aid. Our work is to pray for that power, meditate on the instruction, accept His training through suffering, and connect with His people. In that way, we work together with and under God to become the joyful and peaceful people of hope He wants us to be.

You can visualize that way God works in this way:

Each thing that God does calls us to do something for ourselves and others. In this way, there is a true synergy between God and man in the work of our transformation/sanctification.

In light of all that, we are in a better place to understand why Christians seem to have less joy and peace than they could and should.

First, do we even make it a goal? Do we have a vision for what God can and will do to make us a hopeful, joyful, peaceful people? Do we pray for this work in ourselves and others? Do we pray for a transformed character in the lives of the people around us and in ourselves? That’s where it starts.

Second, do we see that it is a process? If we do not, then we easily fall prey to delusion or despair. Delusion, because it puts pressure on us to pretend we have something we do not have or to a degree we do not have it. Despair, because we just keep waiting for it to happen, and it doesn’t.

On the other hand, if we see that it is a process, we can understand that though we may not be a joyful person today and probably won’t morph into one tomorrow, we can become more joyful over the course of time, in a year or three years or five years. This enables us to submit to God’s process and be patient with ourselves and others. We can encourage others that change is possible.

Third, are we re-thinking all of reality from God’s perspective? For example, do we view our houses and homes and possessions with a greater value than God would place on them? Do we concern ourselves with results or simply doing God’s will? Do we retaliate when people get angry with us, or do we see that we are created and redeemed for gentleness, even when others aren’t gentle? Do we see people in the church as members of the same body together (see Rom. 12:3–8)?

I remember one of the elders in our church describing monetary savings this way: savings is one way our heavenly Father provides for our future. That means that we should save, but we should not rely on our savings. It is merely one means by which our heavenly Father provides for us. That perspective has helped me view my savings with less anxiety. When surprising bills for car, home, or health come up, I deal with it with greater peace. Savings is good to have, but I’m dependent on my Father, not savings. That is re-thinking all of reality from God’s perspective.

Fourth, do we view suffering as an unmitigated evil or as gift from God to enable us to grow? When we get sick, are we more concerned about getting healthy than learning to be sick in a godly way? Do we see the challenges that people who oppose us bring us opportunity to become the people who know how to love even in difficult situations? That is embracing suffering as God’s training in a joyful, godly life.

Fifth, do we get other people involved? It’s hard to see our own weaknesses. We need other people to help us see ourselves. We often don’t hear God’s perspective well until we hear it from the lips of other people. We need to get involved with the church and the people God provides as a resource for our growth in grace. As the Apostle Paul said, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11–12).

We have to embrace the sort of training that will get us where we need to be. John Ortberg asked in the lectures noted above, how many of you can run a marathon right now? A couple people raised their hands. How many of you could run a marathon, if you tried harder? He asked. Nobody new raised their hands. How many of you could run a marathon, if you trained for it? I don’t know how many raised their hands, but I know that many of them could. It would take a lot of training, but it would be possible.

And if we give attention to God’s plan for training, we can grow in our character. We can become more like Jesus. We can grow to become imperfectly but truly people who live out of a faith that leads to joy, peace, and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing how God works, we can also help other people. That’s what the church is for. That’s what the church can be. And that’s what we can be by God’s grace.


Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash


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