Shout for Joy the Lord all the earth! Ps. 100
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
I’ve always appreciated joyful people. They’re rare. People who regularly brighten a conversation, a room, a relationship. Joyful people are good to be around. We can all be joyful and encouraging at times, but I find it just as easy to be negative or simply apathetic or detached. I don’t consider myself gloomy, but I also do not consider myself joyful.
God has been pricking my conscience the past year in this regard. My lack of joy should bother me.
Is joy the most overlooked and underappreciated attribute and command of God? It’s so easy to turn God into a series of shall’s and shall nots, rules and ceremonies. For me, it’s often easier to focus on the Passion of the Christ and His suffering than on the joy of His resurrection and what that portends for our future. Really, though, it’s easier yet to focus on the things of this world which often grab the attentions of my heart. The continual tyrannies of the moment seem designed to sap my strength and enthusiasm. But when I think of what God wants from me, I think of communion with him, love, justice, grace, patience, charity, stewardship … .
But joy? Over the years, I read the verses about joy, but not really. My heart did not hear.
I never gave joy much thought, until the past six months. In response to several specific prayer requests, God just kept bringing it up in my life, over and over again. Multiple lessons in places far and wide. Even before the whole Covid19 debacle, God laid it on me repeatedly that joy is a choice, a choice God commands, like love. The Covid19 “events” have been an invitation to depression and anxiety. It is not a time for feeling joy. These lessons in joy stand in contrast to circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Yet, First Century Rome was not a time or place for Christ followers to feel joy. Prison, beatings, being human torches in Nero’s garden … . And yet, there’s Paul voice, coming from a Roman prison in the midst of such misery, as he awaits his own execution: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.. Phil. 4:4. In the midst of true hardship, real deprivation and facing imminent death – rejoice, again I encourage you – REJOICE!
Like love, joy is both a feeling and a choice. Sometimes it comes naturally, but for most of us, myself included, joy is not a natural, regular feeling. It’s not that I don’t like joy, it’s just I’m satisfied with far less than true joy. Comfort, security and routine suit me just fine, thank you. C.S. Lewis captured it well when he said, “We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. We are far too easily pleased.”
Joy is more than an antidote to depression. Joy should be more than an occasional experience. Like love, however, joy must be chosen, pursued and cultivated. I recently shared with a group of dear brothers what God has been teaching me in this regard over the past several months, and a brother asked me to reduce it to writing to share. So, here’s where I am and what God has me working on.
First, big hat tip acknowledgment. My brother Pastor Travis gave a sermon during the great quarantine/house arrest that we watched on Facebook. In fact, it was the first sermon by Travis that I’d been able to watch for at least a year. It was on how to choose joy, which was one more of many many not subtle lessons on this topic from God. Perhaps because we have genetically similar brains, I liked his organization of the topic. So, the first three points are slavishly taken from Travis, however, not necessarily the subpoints (I only wrote down the three sermon points in my notes!).
FIRST and FOREMOST: CHOOSE GOD
Brother Lawrence reminds us in Practicing His Presence, “Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in God.”
God is the foundation of existence, of truth, and of meaning. Without Him, we are afloat in a meaningless practically infinite void of space – both physically and morally. Without God, we are no more than our experiences, for better or worse. Curiously assembled molecules on a blue dot in the middle of an empty, cold expanse. As Jesus taught, without Him, our castles are built on shifting sand.
God is our hope for eternity. God gives us grace, when our nature warrants judgment. God gives us himself, the Spirit, for power and the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal. 5:22. God is love. He is never changing. He authored our lives, our salvation, and our sanctification. And gives us all of this and more, for free, as His gift. All of which should lead us to the second point.
SECOND as a result of choosing God: CHOOSE WORSHIP
“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Ps. 28:7
God revealed himself to us in time, and those revelations are recorded in Scripture. As the last paragraph indicates, God warrants infinite worship. He is truly Awesome. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:28-29.
If you do nothing else all day to nourish your spirit, praise God. Praise Him for who he is. Praise Him for what he’s done and what he’s promised to do. Praise Him for the creation around you. Praise Him for making you and putting breath in your lungs and thoughts in your head. Praise Him for the people he’s put in your life, even the ones you might not be fond of.
Turns out that worship is also FUN, especially when done with others and to music. Indeed, even God sings! Zeph. 3:17.
Lift your face to the one, most high King of Creation, and sing praise. Your spirit will lift with your praises.
THIRD: CHOOSE GRATITUDE
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ps. 107:1
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Phil. 4:6
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thes. 5:18
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17
Before you ask God for anything, give him thanks. If you are able to breath and form a thought, give thanks. If you are able to lie your head down to sleep, give thanks. If you have water to drink, give thanks. Before you ask something from anyone, make sure you’ve expressed gratitude to and for them.
Make it a point to show those close to you appreciation every day. I’ve been married going on 27 years, and this past year, my wife and I made it a point to try and tell each other things we appreciated about each other. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference, particularly over time. After years of being together, it’s easy to forget to articulate the many things we like about those close to us.
A life founded on God and centered on regular and deliberate worship and regular and deliberate gratitude, produces a life of joy.
FOURTH: MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE A JOY TO BE AROUND
Work for joy!
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” I Cor. 1:24. In this day of great concern over infections and social distancing, make it a goal to be a GOOD social infection: seek to bring joy, encourage worship and appreciation.
Foremost, choose the fellowship of believers. Give thanks and praise to God with other believers. Seek to surround yourself with people that put their faith in Christ and who also want to live lives of praise and gratitude. Historically, hermits are not known for being joyful spirits. Perhaps related, who you spend the most time with will be one of the biggest influences on who you become.
Of course, that works in reverse too. You can have a huge influence on who those closest to you become.
Be careful not to cop out of a relationship and say, “they’re just not joyful!” Maybe you can help them turn it around. Or maybe, consider whether you may have been part of the problem through commission or by omission? Suffice it to say, I have been. As part of this journey of understanding the practice of joy, God laid it on my heart, what have you done to bring joy into your soul mate’s life? It was painful for me to realize, I was far too often part of the problem or by omission, i.e. missing in action regarding coming along my bride to encourage and help her. If you haven’t already, make it a point to pray, praise and give thanks with those closest to you and consider to what extent you are a source of encouragement and joy for them.
Choose to have fun with those close to you. If screens are a thing in your house, which is likely if you are in an American house with other people and even more likely if you are in a house by yourself, have screen-free times planned, scheduled and committed to during which you do something fun. Play a game. Tell a story. Sing a song. Pop water balloons on each other’s heads. Whatever your people enjoy, do it. Be deliberate.
Be deliberate in choosing God. Nothing speaks to our priorities more than how we use our time. When you read the biographies of the great men and women of faith, you repeatedly see the same two things: they were ruthlessly committed to their time with God in scripture and to their time in prayer. And like Brother Lawrence, prayer need not be a formal, set aside time or place. It is an ongoing, regular and real conversation with God.
This is where God has me now and as I am working on cultivating a spirit of joy.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you pursue and have a life filled with joy. God bless!