Joy, Happiness… it’s such a big issue in our lives, isn’t it? It is what most people think they want, and they look so many places to find it. And advertisements just prey upon this desperate search:
“Feeling down? Try losing ten pounds with our amazing new product!”
“Having a bad day? You need BK your way.. Try our new flame broiled burger!”
In the course of one night’s worth of television viewing, we are told that everything from hair color to bathroom cleaning products will increase our level of joy. And of course, we’re being lied to.
“Joy” has always been an issue for me. As a child, I was ‘the moody one.’ I was often disgruntled, cried easily. I was told to ‘put a smile on my face’, which made me feel even less happy. At church I learned that ‘knowing Jesus should make me happy.’ They even had a remarkable song about this:
“I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time. I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time!”
I would sing this song in my little class and look around and wonder; ‘Was everyone else really happy all of the time?’ I just knew that I wasn’t. It seemed like such a lie. To this day hearing that song makes me feel ill.
Then, while I was in college spending a semester at ‘the ends of the earth’ (which is now called Papua) I learned something shockingly new about joy: it was a choice. My time spent in Papua was filled with challenges: isolation from friends and family, full foreign cultural immersion, & cohabitation with jungle wild life (did you know that rats chirp much like birds?)… And yet in the middle of it all was this amazing, God-fearing group of people who had surrendered every comfort and convenience of life in The States in order to share Jesus with people living in Papua. And from this group of missionaries, I learned that joy is a choice. James 1:2-4 says:
“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”
So, I realized that when I am faced with a difficult situation, or with a deep disappointment, I could ‘choose joy.’ And to me that meant that I could trust that God knew what He was doing, even if I didn’t.
Long after my time in Papua, I continued ‘choosing joy’, and this did give a lift to my terribly melancholy personality. Eeyore’s cloud no longer hung so low, or so dark, for the most part anyway.
And then God did some amazing and quite wondrous things, and I found myself in a place where simply ‘choosing joy’ was no longer enough; I became a church-planting-pastor’s-wife. ::cue clanging gong::
It is one thing to ‘choose joy’ when your car breaks down. Trusting that God knows what He is doing – while you are sitting in a hot vehicle with a screaming child just waiting for help to arrive – will give you peace of mind, and perhaps a bit more patience. But (at least for me) it does not provide actual joy: a feeling of pleasure, contentment, or elation. And the experience of church planting (or replanting – which is actually what we have done) is similar to having your car break down every single day, multiple times, with the exception that instead of sitting and waiting for help to arrive, you are then trampled over by very large, angry unapologetic mac trucks. In other words, it is really hard.
And I found myself reaching a point of begging God to give me some actual joy, somewhere. And He did, in Himself.
In Philippians 3: 8-9, Paul writes: “…Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with Him.”
And later, in Philippians 4:4 he says: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!”
Paul was not just talking about trusting God or having faith, he was referring to real, actual joy. And how did he experience this joy? Because he spent his life intimately walking with Jesus. And when compared to Jesus, the value and importance of the other things in his life simply faded. He chose to not only put his trust and faith in Jesus, but also to find his joy in Him.
Not only are we capable of ‘choosing joy’, but each of us also chooses the source of our joy. What does that mean? Well, I know a whole lot of people who find their joy in television. They derive their joy from sitcoms and drama, characters, and story plots. Now, I’m not saying it is wrong to enjoy a movie or TV show, but if I approach my television with the attitude of “You are it for me baby. I will have joy tonight because of you.”- then there is a problem.
Other people place food as the object of their joy (and affection, which goes hand in hand). If a Big Mac, fries, & chocolate shake leave you wondering what’s for dinner, then you are placing an expectation on food for joy which it will never deliver.
And yet some people dig deeper and live darker looking for joy: drugs, alcohol, sexual addictions.
In Jeremiah 3: 13 God says: “My people have done two evil things: they have forsaken me – the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”
It’s no coincidence that we are each on a search for deep, satisfying joy. God created us that way. And that joy: pleasure, satisfaction, elation, – must be found in Him ~ by living a life that is spent walking intimately with Him. But most of us look for joy elsewhere. We dig cracked cisterns – we spend our lives watching TV, pursuing successful careers, buying cool gadgets, jumping from one high to the next, and continue to wonder where and when joy will actually be found.
Your joy is your choice. To whom, or to what, will you give your heart? What have you placed as the object of your affection and the source of your joy? Many Christians will tell you that “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), but that is only true if your joy is indeed found in the Lord.