In a world where you can’t turn on the TV, read the news or look on Facebook without seeing something bad happening, how do we find joy? I truly believe that joy is the result of a grateful heart. Not just grateful for things, but so grateful for the salvation and love of Jesus, that we can’t help but be joyful. I understand that I have not suffered as some have, but the Bible is full of stories of those who chose, through God’s grace, to be joyful despite the world. This is the hope that I stand in, that the words in the Bible are true and reliable. Unshakable joy is available to everyone who believes that God is the source of their joy, and I have seen the change in my own life when I choose joy.
I have not always been a joyful person. When I believed that joy came from myself, I would try to make myself joyful. When had a bad day, I would try my hardest to simply be joyful. But time and time again, I failed. I would pretend to be happy for a while, push down the other feelings and put on a mask. But eventually I would explode. I’d erupted with all the feeling that I was hiding and more times than not, say something that hurt someone else. I faked my way through it, pretending to be happy, and eventually I failed because I am not God. When I saw the pattern of pretend and fail happening over and over in my life, I knew I had to do something, but what? I needed my joy to come from someone else. I needed my joy to come from the giver of joy Himself.
But how could I get this joy? As I began to learn what joy was, I saw that the only way to have joy is to get to know the giver of joy, God. I wanted a short cut and I tried them all. I would read bits of scripture out of contexts, I read books on what others though about the Bible, I even listened to sermons and podcasts online. While these things are good and can be fantastic tools, they are not a substitute for reading and discovering the Bible for myself. Once I started reading, I discovered how little I knew. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read. I discovered that there was no short cut if I wanted the real thing, and I desperately needed the real thing.
As I learned about God through reading the bible for myself, the more it gave me an opportunity to practice being joyful. It started with my trust in who Jesus is. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was young, but really began to understand what faith was in college. Making the choice to take on faith as my own meant that I had to admit that I needed help, and that there is nothing good in me without God. Psalms 32:1 “Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight.” (NIV) When I remember that I deserve nothing but death, yet God chose to give Himself in my place, I can’t help but be joyful. When I truly believe that I need God, it should change everything about the way I think. Acts 13:52 “And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (NIV) When we become believers it should noticeably change us and continue to change us as we mature in our faith. Joy is one of the ways we show the world that we are different. That we have trust in something greater than ourselves. Having joy when there is no explainable reason, is an amazing testimony and witness.
When I was a child and excepted Jesus into my heart. I was on fire for God, telling everyone I met with no shame. I thought that is how it worked, that I excepted God into my heart and God changed me in that moment. I did not understand that it was only the first step. Asking God into my heart was not the end, but simply the start of me asking for help. I knew I was a sinner and needed help, but at such a young age there was no way I could have known how much help I needed. But then came college and I was on my own. I had rarely read my Bible and I simply identified as a Christian. I lacked the desperation to read. I truly thought I was fine. But then life got away from me and I was miserable. I was missing something. I began to feel the desperation of my heart as I reminisced on the days of my childhood faith. There was no joy in my life because there was no God in my life.
God has a gracious way of making us desperate. He bends us so that we see how imperfect we are and in the same moment, how loved we are. He shows us our sin, so that He can free us from it. I have felt the desperation of my sin, and in that I have learned what real joy feels like. Joy takes trust and experience in a steadfast God who has proven himself to me over and over again. John 15:4 has become my life verse, I want nothing more than to be so consumed with God that it pours over into everything. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (NIV) When I am abiding in God, life becomes less about me and more about who God is. I find that joy is much easier to come by, because I am truly joyful. But this is not a one-time deal, abiding means getting to know and continuing to get to know. I want so much to be perfect, have all the answers and do what is right. But God saves us from ourselves in this. If we pretend to be perfect, then how would we point others to Him? We have to be genuine in our struggles and God can and will use it to His glory.
God is foolproof and exudes joy, so if I spend my time abiding in Him I have the opportunity to learn from Him. The bad news is, I’m not God. So, unless I keep coming back to Him, relying on Him and getting to know Him, I don’t stand a chance to have any kind of joy. Life gets hard, complicated and overwhelming, but God wants us to come to him like children. This means that we should have a heart of eagerness and relentlessness to learn. Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (NLT) We access joy by spending time with God, by taking baby steps of trust, and by remembering what is true. We will never reach perfection, but joy is a blessing that God gives us to combat all that aims to bring us away from the good that He freely gives us. So my friend, read, learn, remember, and choose joy.