When asked, today's society would provide multiple answers for the source of one's joy. For instance, one may say that success and wealth would in turn produce a joyful life. On the other hand, one may say physical fitness and good health would be a wellspring of joy and contentment. Maybe, one person may suggest that a happy marriage and family life could manufacture the joy we all are seeking. However, time and time again we see all of these factors fail us as we endure the suffering of muddling through a broken world, blindly flipping over stones and debris as we look for a never-ending source of joy to quench our parched lives. So, it can be seen that we are all searching for the same answer to the question,
"What is the source of joy and how can we continue to be joyful in times of suffering?"
In order to begin to answer this question, I would like to take a look at the country of Nigeria. Though Nigeria is in one sense one whole country, it is also a country that is severed across the middle with an Islamic North and a Christian South. This can be seen from the persecution map sourced from OpendoorsUSA that is placed below.
Though there is a distinct border between Nigeria's Islamic North and Christian South, that border is constantly being pushed downward as Fulani extremists spread beyond the northern borders into the southern areas. The Fulani target churches and missions by burning churches and kidnapping worshippers and church leaders. Another result of the Fulani attacks is the displacement of thousands who are left to live in refugee camps in their own country. Unfortunately, because the Nigerian government favors the Islamic North, prosecution of the Fulani extremists for their attacks on the Christian South is not common and no government help has been provided to those who have been displaced into refugee camps.
In contrast, though Nigeria is known to contain the most violent persecution of Christians, Nigeria is also known worldwide as having one of the strongest prayer movements. Additionally, Nigerian missionaries at home and abroad are leading the way for Africa-wide mission mobilization.
As I studied the persecution in Nigeria, I was amazed to see Nigeria's harshness in persecution contrasted with its fruitfulness and I was reminded of the joy of the apostles in Acts 5:41 which says,
"So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." - Acts 5:41
In this verse, we see a snapshot of the apostles rejoicing after they had been beaten by the council for teaching the truth of Jesus in the temple. Something that is very interesting about this verse is that it places suffering and rejoicing in the same sentence. It is hard to imagine how one could rejoice in the midst of experiencing busted lips and black eyes but we see the apostles doing just that. I even like to imagine them walking down the streets jumping up in the air and lovingly jostling each other around as they were thankful for the fact that they were even counted worthy to join in the same suffering that Jesus endured. But how was this possible? This... joy? You see, the apostles were able to experience joy in the presence of pain because their joy was not rooted in wealth, stability, their families, or even their health and physical appearance. The joy of the apostles, much like the joy of Christians in Nigeria, is sourced from the well of Jesus Christ Himself. It is in Jesus that we are quenched and filled to overflowing to a point where no other pressure or pains of the world can steal it away. Even when we are depleted, we can return to Him time and time again for another drink.
Unlike the other temporary muddy puddles of the world, the spring of the Savior is not only pure and refreshing, it is endless and always at hand. All we have to do is ask for it and He is faithful to provide. That is joy everlasting.