Joy When Your Hands Are Empty


That’s how many of us feel who have sat through sermon after sermon about waiting on God. We’ve leaned into the truth that waiting is God working. We’ve waited. We’ve trusted. We’ve done the Advent Bible studies. We’ve asked God how He wants to change us while He works. We’ve clung to Scripture and held onto hope when we had no reason to.

And yet, our provision still has not arrived.

The plus sign, the husband, the restored relationship, the dream, the job opportunity-we’ve been waiting for a painfully long stretch of time. Oh, we know that with the Lord a thousand years is as a day, but with us, the years we have waited just feel like an eternity.

We’ve accepted that waiting may be the story of our lives. We’ve dug deep, deep wells all the way to the bottom of our hearts, and we have decided we’ll follow Jesus to the end, regardless of whether or not He gives us our heart’s desires this side of eternity.

There’s much to celebrate for that type of perseverance that only God can stir inside of us. It’s to be rejoiced over that we have decided we’ll endure.

But is it possible to endure with joy? Can we feel delight when we are aching for the delights God has given to other people? Can we actually enjoy seasons of life when all we feel we have to look forward to in the mornings is another day of waiting?

I know that no blog post can soothe the deep ache of a longing unfulfilled, but I know a Jesus who can.

I know a Jesus who can come in and turn our disenchantment with all the positive (and very true) talks about ‘waiting is God working’ into an authentic enchantment of His embrace.

I know a Jesus who can stir in us hope even when we’re up against all hopelessness- the longing which seems more impossible as each day goes by.

And I know a Jesus who can somehow manage to give us a full joy when our hands are most empty.

In fact, the way He gives us an authentic fullness is most often in the context of heart- wrenching emptiness.

Psalm 23, perhaps the most well-known of Psalms, makes a profound claim in its very first line-

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

“I shall not want” literally means “I lack nothing.”

If Jesus is my shepherd, then I lack nothing.

But here’s where the tension builds within me as I read these words: aren’t we all lacking something? At least most of of our lives, we are in the place of longing for something we lack.

What I have learned in the past decade of my life is this: I can only say with certainty I shall not want if I am actually in want.

Think about it.

If you have everything you want, then it would be redundant to say I lack nothing. That would be wasted words on the page of Scripture because you would literally lack nothing. There would be nothing noteworthy about those words.

But if you can authentically say, I lack nothing, when you literally lack things for which you desperately long, then you have truly validated that Jesus is in fact everything you need and everything you want.

Your heart’s deepest satisfaction truly is in Him if you can be satisfied-with great joy, like a cup that overflows- when you are living in the gap of waiting for the temporal satisfactions for which you long.

Being in want teaches us that wants are wants. If we have Jesus, we do not lack anything that we need. He is the fulfillment of every need in our souls and in our lives.

While it is not ‘fun’ to live the day in and day out with unfulfilled longings, it is necessary for us to experience seasons of unfulfilled longings on earth because they:

Teach us that Jesus is truly all we need.

Give us an understanding and anticipation for our citizenship in heaven and a heightened awareness that this earth is not our home.

Help us to place our joy in Jesus for eternity, and forsake any and all earthly things.

To be able to forsake earthly treasures is a true treasure in and of itself. To overcome being overcome by the desires of this world is a story of victory, satisfaction, and joy.

Jesus says that He imparted His teachings to us so that His joy would be in us, and that our joy would be made full.

Joy is made full in seasons of want, in the emptiness while we wait.

Jesus’ joy was unearthly; it was literally heavenly in that His joy would only fully be realized there. His joy came from the reward set before Him. His joy came from knowing the pleasures that would be at His side forevermore.

And He wanted this very same joy to be in us- and to be full. The good news of Jesus:

Your joy can be full even when your heart is not.
Your joy can be full even when your arms are not.
Your joy can be full even when your hands are not.
Your joy can be full even when your house is not.
Your joy can be full even when your bank account is not.

Only in Jesus can empty things somehow be made full.

Waiting is God’s way of winning over our hearts- the position of greatest pleasure and most exhilarating joy.

So today, though your hands may be empty, and though your joy may feel drastically shy of full, extend your heart heavenward and trust that you’re on your way there. You’re on your way to cup-overflowing joy because the Lord is your shepherd, and in Him, you truly lack nothing.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18