Bible teacher and author Angela Thomas speaks to thousands of women each year, calling them to a deeper faith and understanding of God's Word. Her recent book, Choosing Joy, encourages women to practice joyful living, even when life is anything but happy. And she definitely knows a thing or two about choosing joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. TCW asked her to tell us more about how she's discovered joy in her own troubles and how we can all do the same.
You've experienced some difficulty in your life.
I've had a broken journey—divorced, eight years as a single mom, and now remarried. It wasn't the life I intended or would have chosen, but in the brokenness I had a choice. I could allow bitterness to take over or I could trust God and choose joy. It would have been easy to rationalize bitterness because things hadn't been fair and I'd been desperately wounded.
But the Lord reminded me that every one of his promises still holds. He is able to do infinitely more than I could ask, imagine, or hope. He still works all things together for good. He still forgives, redeems, and heals. He is still my Savior, heaven is still mine, and I'm on my way home. So the question became: How now will I live for the glory of God?
And the answer to that question?
By dealing with my bitterness. It was a choice. How much better for my children if they lived with a mom who was redeemed rather than an empty shell of a person counting her bitterness? Death or life, which one do you want? I want life.
A friend of mine said, "I don't know anything about living in joy. I only know about surviving." That's where most of us find ourselves—surviving. If there happens to be a moment of joy along the way, then hallelujah. But in the Bible the Lord makes clear that he is serious about his followers choosing to live in joyfulness, because it glorifies him.
How does choosing joy glorify God?
When we choose joyfulness, we're pointing to God—his goodness and our hope in him despite the bank account, bad day, or failing a test.
Why do you think many of us misunderstand joy?
First Thessalonians 5:16 says, "Always be joyful." Most people come to those three words and say, "Really? Are you kidding? I can forgive my brother more easily than I can be joyful always."
But that passage is talking about choosing joy, not feeling joy. A lot of us hear the word joy and think of a feeling. We think, I can't get there. I don't feel it. It's not in me. The Lord knows it's not in us. As an offering to him, out of obedience, he wants us to choose it. It's a battle we fight.
How do we fight?
It's a mark of spiritual maturity to choose joyfulness in the face of uncertainty, fear, pain, or lack of courage. As with all spiritual maturity, we practice and learn. We grow a little today and take two steps back tomorrow, then next week maybe three steps forward, but we train our spirit and mind to choose joyfulness.
I've encountered amazing people who have chosen joyfulness in the Lord, even in the face of great suffering. I know people who know the Lord just as well, who have not chosen joy. Press on. Become imitators. We don't just sign up at the joy Bible study and get joy by the time we're done. It's a journey.