So for three days, I've been talking about God's promises and issuing the caution not to confuse His promises with His assurances (which is all too easy to do). But what is the difference?
A promise is something (specific) God is going to do; an assurance is something God has already done.
When we talk about joy, then, we're talking about an assurance. You already have joy. God has already given you joy. Even if you're in a bit of a funk and you don't think this is true, consider this: how do you know you're in a funk? Your joy is gone. Whether you recognized it or not when you had it, you recognize it when it's gone, and you know that in some measure, at some point, your life had joy. Under the fog, it still does. This is an assurance.
When we talk about peace, we're talking about an assurance. You already have peace. God has already given you peace. Even if your life is in turmoil and you can't even fathom what peace looks like, consider this: how do you know your life is in turmoil? Your peace is gone. Whether you recognized it or not when you had it, you recognize it when it's gone, and you know that in some measure, at some point, your life had peace. In the eye of the storm, it still does. This is an assurance.
The same is true about all the little assurances God has given us. Joy, peace, love, strength, confident assurance, hope, life, blessing...you name it. These are the things God has already done, and is presently doing, in your life.
Then why doesn't it feel like it? Because the thief comes to steal....
The very fact that your joy can be robbed is evidence that you have had joy. The very fact that your peace can be shaken is evidence that you have had peace. The very fact that your love can be broken is evidence that you have had love. The very fact that your strength can fail is evidence that you have had strength.
And it sounds like what I'm going to say next must obviously be one of those things you hear all those prosperity gospel preachers say all the time. Something like "If you want the peace of God in your life, you have to just recognize that He's already given it to you" or "God is giving you peace today! Go out and claim it!"
But you should know by now that I would never speak such junk theology. To put it bluntly, it's crap. Because it makes it seem like the evidencing of God's assurances in your life is entirely your choice. If you would just live like a person who has peace, then you would have peace. If you would just live like a person who has joy, then you would have joy. If you would just pull yourself up out of this mess you're in and put on your good Christian mask, nobody would know any better. Least of all you, since you'd see your own mask every time you looked in the mirror. After awhile, you'd probably just assume that mask is your "true" face.
It's bunk. It creates a false dichotomy - like you can have the assurances of God or you can have the troubles of this world, but you can't have both.
Life is made up of both.
Faith, and the godly life, is not about choosing one or the other. It's not about putting on masks. It's not about pretending that the assurances of God cover over all the trials and troubles of this world. There is a peace that passes all understanding, but God never said it is a peace that passes all grief or trial. Don't pretend that it is.
Faith, and the godly life, are about embracing both things at once - the assurances of God and the troubles of this world. It's about living in the tension. It's about being in a funk and still knowing joy. It's about living in the storm and still knowing peace. It's about feeling the despair and still holding onto hope. God didn't create this world for you to escape it; He created it for you to embrace it.
And just because one thing seems to come from God and another one profoundly doesn't, it doesn't mean that one of these things is any more or less real than the other. You still have to deal with both of them. Yes, you still must choose to hope, but not because hope eliminates fear. Hope is simply a gift given beside fear. You must still choose joy, but not because joy trumps sadness. Joy is just a gift given beside sorrow.
It feels sometimes like the tension is going to tear you apart. That's why it's easy to choose one thing over another, to choose hope or fear, joy or sorrow. It feels like trying to have both would just pull open this emptiness inside of you. And it does.
But the cool thing is that the more you let this kind of tension tear at you, the more space you open up in the depths of your heart for God to fill. And He will. And all that joy, all that peace, all that hope that it feels so hard sometimes to hold onto, all those assurances of God, will rest deeper inside of you still until they become the very core of your being.