Jason Clark wishes every Christian would live in the joy God has given them. Not the happiness that depends on circumstances, but the joy that flows directly from a faith that refuses to bow to suffering.
Clark knows suffering. You might not realize it if you look at his life from the outside. After all, as a successful singer and songwriter, Clark leads the popular Southern Gospel troupe The Nelons with his wife, Kelly Nelon Clark. He’s also written (and ghostwritten) several books and regularly publishes devotionals online.
But a successful career couldn’t spare him from an unknown heart defect called myocardial bridge, which caused him extreme chest pain and exhaustion. When doctors discovered the defect in December 2019, they rushed him into emergency open-heart surgery, with three months of strict bedrest to follow.
A Year of Surgeries and Suffering
Less than two months after Clark’s surgery, the pandemic hit the U.S., forcing families across the nation to quarantine for months on end.
“I felt like a prisoner,” Clark admits. “I hadn’t been able to get out of my house or even out of my bedroom.”
The day he was allowed to move around, he was thrilled. One of the first things he did was visit the horses on his family’s rural Georgia farm. He specifically wanted to spend time with a new horse that was exhibiting behavioral problems.
If he had known what would happened next, perhaps he wouldn’t have gone to the farm that day.
“The horse turned around and kicked me in my right knee. Shattered my knee and shin,” Clark says. “I had an emergency knee surgery and didn’t walk for the next six months.”
With a total of nine months in bed, multiple surgeries, and 60 physical therapy sessions, Clark can truthfully say 2020 was one of the hardest years of his life. But it was also one of the most enlightening.
“Sometimes it’s like God is an entire universe away from you,” he says. “But I did find Him. I found Him to be my center of peace. The Lord spoke to me so much in those really trying times.”
As hard as 2020 was, it had its benefits, too, such as providing inspiration for much of his family’s recent music. Many of the songs on the Nelons’ latest record, Peace at Last, revealed what Clark learned about what peace and joy truly mean.
“Joy doesn’t come by our circumstances,” he says. “It literally supersedes the circumstances of life. When I’ve experienced the purest joy is when I’ve gone through some of the most difficult circumstances, because it shaves away all the things in life that could be trivial.”
Surprised by Joy in Cambodia
Clark can’t think of a better example of this truth than one of his mission trips to Cambodia. Clark has traveled to the Asian nation for ministry many times since 2002, and what has always stood out to him the most was how joyful the Christians were despite having so little.
When ministering in the jungles, Clark saw that many homes didn’t even have running water and electricity. And as far as possessions went, they had few. It wasn’t uncommon for families to walk four to five hours just to attend church.
“There was nothing but pure, holy joy in the midst of these families, because they had the Lord,” he says. “And they found that because they have Him, although they have nothing, they have everything. It’s the paradox of the Christian life, and I see it more clearly on the mission field than anywhere else.”
What could happen if the American church grabbed hold of this truth? How would having a joy fully rooted in Jesus transform American Christians’ everyday lives?
Clark says the results would be extraordinary. With as many resources as we have in the West, imagine the generosity—financial and spiritual—that such a joy would produce. It could change the world.
“God never intended for us to be a reservoir,” Clark says. “If we become a reservoir, our lives quickly get stagnant, stale, and complacent. We should always be conduits. There’s joy and excitement in giving. When you’re tapped into the throne and living water is flowing from you to others, that’s the most exciting life you could live.”
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