Vuthy Nol-Mantia—Pacifica, California, USA
According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year.1 Every forty seconds, someone somewhere in this world has taken their own life. And those who die by suicide are not only the poor, sick, and destitute; suicide affects people of all incomes and backgrounds, even those leading seemingly comfortable lives. Despite everything they own and the loved ones they have around them, some people are overwhelmed by mental anguish or a sense of ennui and meaninglessness. As Christians and God's chosen people, do we also find the shadow of depression hanging heavy over us? Are there times we are unable to view life with wonderment and find joy in our lives?
FINDING JOY THROUGH CONTENTMENT IN THE LORD
With each passing year and each fresh reading of Psalm 23, the words strike a deeper chord within me, and I can understand and appreciate life more. King David opened the psalm with these words:
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)
Comparing the lives of King David and his son Solomon, we find that David did not have the wisdom, riches, and glory Solomon had. On the contrary, David's life was filled with conflict, trials, and tribulations. Yet, after all he endured, David concluded that the Lord was his Shepherd and he would not be in want (or be found in want). On the other hand, Solomon had peace and obtained wisdom, riches, and glory—all he had ever sought. But ironically, toward the end of his life, he proclaimed that it was all vanity; he found that everything he had gained was empty and hollow. Despite all his attainments, Solomon found himself in want at the end of his life. Reflecting on the lives of these two kings, father and son, the secret to a meaningful and joyful life is revealed with the line, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." When we make the Lord Jesus Christ our Shepherd, we will feel no want within our hearts.
There is nothing wrong with wanting something. We all have things we find pleasurable—it is a blessing from God to enjoy good food or walk along the sandy beach and admire the shore's natural beauty. Pleasures become wrong only when our desire for them starts to overwhelm everything else in our lives. Too often, we see people consumed by their wants and desires. That is why they cannot be happy—they always want more. As Christians, we can live joyful lives if we curb our desires and are contented with what we have. We know that, for richer or poorer, all that we have are God's blessings (Mt 6:31–34). We can be content, trusting that God will sufficiently provide for us so we can lead meaningful and joyful lives.
My wife had always wanted to run a coffee shop, so when we moved to Dallas, she changed careers and opened a restaurant with our niece. The early days of establishing the business were stressful: they were doing renovations, procuring city permits, and frequently working from before daybreak till after midnight, all for meager returns. The daily grind eventually caused them to become bitter and disillusioned with their business venture, which manifested in murmurings and complaints.
When I had the opportunity, I reminded them how blessed they are to be in their position—not everyone who dreams of opening a restaurant or a coffee shop is able to. A third of restaurants in the United States fail in their first year. My wife and niece considered what I said and reflected on their accomplishments. They recognized how blessed it was to establish a restaurant and work together daily. This realization changed their perspective, and now, even though they do not earn much, they are more joyful and content.
But God's blessings did not end there. From the moment they opened the restaurant, my wife and niece were determined to keep the Sabbath and attend spiritual convocations, so they closed their restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays. Initially, their customers were confused—why close during peak business hours? But they eventually discovered that we are Sabbath-keeping Christians. Now, the whole neighborhood knows the owner's husband is the pastor of a nearby church—just up the hill, on the corner. My wife receives visitors seeking God, and I go to the restaurant to speak to them. So, even though the restaurant does not make much money, my wife and niece are much more content and joyful because of their role in bringing the community together and raising awareness of the True Jesus Church.
FINDING JOY IN PEACE AND REST IN THE LORD
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. (Ps 23:2)
David's depiction of the Shepherd making the sheep lie down is strange—almost as though the Shepherd has to compel the sheep to rest in the safety and comfort of the green pastures. This is perhaps an apt reflection of our busy lives today, where we do not know when to rest. We work all our lives; before we know it, we find ourselves aged and with one foot in the grave. God knows we need to rest, and He teaches us to rest so we can enjoy our life.
I love the outdoors. I started planting trees and flowers in my backyard to bring a bit of the outdoors closer to home. When the plants began to thrive, I was excited to enjoy the view with my wife and niece. However, since they work long hours, they do not notice the change in the backyard or take the time to admire the flowers in full bloom. When trapped in the daily grind, we often forget to pause, quiet ourselves, and notice the little things in life that bring us joy. When we truly make the Lord Jesus Christ our Shepherd, we have the blessing of Sabbath rest with which to quiet our hearts. Only then can we see and appreciate the little things that make our lives beautiful and blessed. That is the secret to living a joyful life.
FINDING JOY THROUGH RESTORATION IN THE LORD
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake. (Ps 23:3)
Of course, lying down in green pastures and being led beside the still waters are blessings extending beyond life's physical aspects. In the US, the average age of those who divorced in 2022 was forty-six for men and forty-four for women,2 and the divorce rates for those above fifty-five have been steadily rising for years.3 This is the age when many married couples realize their dissatisfaction with each other and break up. Perhaps their children have grown up and flown the nest, leaving them to take stock of their relationship and what they want from life. This demographic also spends more money upgrading their real estate and cars, trading the old for the shiny and new. This all suggests an overcompensation for the emptiness in their hearts and souls; they grasp these things in vain, seeking meaning and joy in their lives. As Christians, do we have the same sentiments, or do we become more thankful with each passing year? Do we feel our souls being restored every day?
God restores our souls, but not through the vain acquisition of material possessions or the temporary satisfaction of our lusts and desires. When I visit people in the hospital, no one talks about how much money they have or what car they own. When we are on our deathbed, with our mortality in plain sight, we will realize that our possessions and desires truly count for nothing. All of us will undoubtedly die one day. Hence, we ought to orient ourselves toward our true Shepherd, who restores us through contentment, peace, and rest. Moreover, we have comfort in knowing there is nothing to fear when we die in Christ because we will be restored to a blissful eternity with our Lord Jesus.
FINDING JOY DESPITE TRIBULATION THROUGH THE LORD
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Ps 23:4)
All Christians must walk through the valley of the shadow of death at some point in their lives. Our thoughts and feelings reflect our relationship with Christ during those times. In his psalm, David states that he will fear no evil. Do we share that same attitude? Despite all his difficulties, David could see that God was always with him and that God's rod and staff were always there to safeguard him from the troubles surrounding him. This is the same mentality with which we should face troubles and tribulations. If we acknowledge that our Shepherd stands beside us, we will not become despondently fixated on our suffering. Instead, we will see the rod and staff of our Shepherd gently guiding us out of the valley of the shadow of death.
FINDING JOY IN VICTORY OVER OUR ENEMIES THROUGH THE LORD
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over. (Ps 23:5)
Being a Christian does not mean that God will remove our enemies and free us from those who wish us harm. David had many enemies throughout his life, but he trusted in God, and God always gave him victory. It is just the same for us. God does not remove our enemies, but He has prepared for our victory—a seat with Him at the table of celebration before our enemies—if we place our trust in Him. The psalm goes on to depict the blessing that comes with victory—our heads are anointed with oil, and our cup runs over. The blessing that comes with trusting in God is bountiful and greater than we can even comprehend.
FINDING JOY IN OUR ETERNAL HOPE IN THE LORD
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever. (Ps 23:6)
The closing verse of Psalm 23 reminds us that no matter what we face today, our ultimate goal is not found in this world. Our goal is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. If we can hold on to this thought fervently, nothing in this world can faze us because we know that whatever we possess or achieve on earth is fleeting. The life to come, with our Lord Jesus Christ, is eternal. Yes, we may suffer and have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death for a time. Nevertheless, our finite years on earth are nothing compared to the infinite and bounteous blessings our Lord Jesus Christ has prepared for us.
Make the Lord Jesus Christ our Shepherd today. Only then will we find contentment and appreciate the simple things in life. Only then will we have a Shepherd who cares for us, makes us rest, and restores our souls with each passing year. Only then will we become more righteous and joyful the longer we live. We know He is always beside us, and His rod and staff comfort us. He will give us victory over our enemies, even over Satan, the biggest enemy of all. He has prepared a table for us and provides us with blessing after blessing. This is how I feel nowadays: my life is full of blessings. God has given me a beautiful family, and He has given me peace and joy in my heart, which only life in Christ can bring. My destination is to be with God forever. If this cannot bring me joy, nothing in this world can. May the Lord grant us all this joyful life in Him. Amen!
1 “Suicide,” World Health Organization, published August 28, 2023, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide.
2 Christy Bieber, JD, “Revealing Divorce Statistics in 2023,” Forbes Advisor, updated August 8, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/legal/divorce/divorce-statistics/.
3 Benjamin Gurrentz and Yeris Mayol-Garcia, “Love and Loss Among Older Adults,” United States Census Bureau, April 22, 2021, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/04/love-and-loss-among-older-adults.html.