In Peter’s first letter it doesn’t take him long to get to the subject of joy. In verses 3-5 of the first chapter he lists the things that God in his mercy has given them — a new birth, a living hope, an inheritance, protection, and a salvation ready to be revealed! Who wouldn’t rejoice at that! In vs. 6 he notes that those to whom he is writing “greatly rejoice” in all that God has given and two verses later he writes that the joy they are experiencing is “so glorious that it cannot be described” (NJB). Yet, the truth is that even in a time of joy they may have to “endure many trials” (NLT). Peter wants them to know that there is joy in suffering is as well.
A good definition of happiness is that it is the result of something that “happens” — such as finding a parking place on a busy street. However, joy is that irresistible sense of euphoria that wells up from within regardless of circumstances. Note that while happiness is normally the reaction to something relatively unimportant, joy requires a context of genuine significance. You shed tears of joy, not tears of happiness, when your beautiful daughter marries a fine young man.
But how does this help explain Christian joy in the midst of difficulty? Consider for a moment how severe trials have a way of bringing us to the end of ourselves. Then when everything has gone wrong there is nowhere to turn but to God. And since God is a God of joy, as we draw close to him we can’t help but be become joyful. His joy incites joy in us. Misery has a way of driving the beleaguered saint into the presence of God and that is where a jubilant transformation takes place.
There it is! Joy, not in spite of “many trials” but the result of trials. They turn us to the One who anointed his Son with “the oil of joy” (Heb 1:9) and will, as Paul promises, “fill you with all joy” (Rom 15:13). Difficulty in the Christian life is not our enemy but a “friend” who drops in occasionally to encourage us in our spiritual growth.