“Joy is the sacrifice of praise” sums up a reality from hardest time in my life. Because it was also the best. In the broken moment of surrender, when I cried to God through a mouthful of carpet, as I lay face down sobbing, I learned more of God’s faithfulness than the 14 years leading up to it. The joy of the Lord is truly my strength, and in the face of a sick little sister I couldn’t cure, no matter how many bottles of formula I poured into her, and the post-partum depression of my goofy, hilarious mother, who I now struggled to coax a wan smile out of, it was my only strength. During the bleak monotony of what we now call “The Hard Winter” I was an unwilling explorer in the vast terrain between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependant on circumstances, joy is the peace that comes from choosing to praise God in the midst of pain.Perhaps we experience the joy of the Lord best when the happiness of the world is stripped away.
My character and faith were formed and tested during that time, and while I wouldn’t willingly relive it, I would never trade it. In the years since, when my life returned to its normal state of sunny Sabbaths and late night giggles, I’ve wondered if I was growing, now I was out of the crucible. I want to be marked by the joys God has given me, as surely as the struggles.
A month ago, sitting enjoying my first summer picnic with friends, the answer struck me. Praise is still the pathway to joy. Recognizing that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) is the key. Seeing our seemingly silly, superficial pleasures as gifts from God, deepens our happiness into joy. Our pleasure and delight in warm bread, sand and pine needles, picnic baskets and laughter, are pleasure and delight in God, when we see them as from Him. Little instances of all the glory and joy backing each gift, the love He wants to pour out, the beauty that is Him.
Joy is still certainly the sacrifice of praise in the midst of pain. But sometimes joy is the overflowing of praise in a time of goodness.