The empty refrigerator made a trip to the grocery store necessary yesterday. As I pulled into the parking lot, I prayed for God’s grace to be evident in me, knowing that this time is not always bringing out the best in people. I made a point of offering a word of thanks to each employee; not a speech, not interrupting them. I just simply said, “Thanks for keeping us fed and supplied. God bless you, friend.” Their faces brightened for a moment. It was a conscious choice to be other-centered – and in those simple exchanges I found joy!
At the risk of sounding like a lecturing Grandpa, I want to urge you to set aside Self, to consciously think about the people around you, their needs, their emotions. Being cooped up in a house with one another, it does not take much to raise the levels of irritation to intolerable levels, does it?
Kids that are arguing, a spouse that thoughtlessly adds to the clutter by leaving his stuff lying around, her desire to watch another Hallmark movie, that hurtful remark about the way you look … it can be a long list of sources of aggravation. It is compounded by worry about where all this ends, about how we will end up financially, if someone we love will get sick. We are tempted to complain and say, “Won’t somebody just please make me happy?”
What’s needed in that moment is a different perspective. A long time ago, I used to sing a little song in Sunday School that said, “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell JOY.” It’s true that when we stop thinking about ourselves and serve others selflessly, WE gain a spiritual benefit. We create a place for God’s joy to grow in us. The opposite is also true. The more focused we are on our own needs, on how much we want to be happy, the deeper our misery becomes.
Christian, joy is an evidence of the life of the Spirit in us. In Galatians 5, where we read of the character of the Christian, we find that little word- JOY – right after LOVE. Let’s not confuse giddy happiness with true joy. You know that, but keep it front and center in your mind as you pray for the ‘joy of the Lord’ to flow from you. Is Christ Lord of your life? Are you prepared to make Him Lord of your emotions, too?
In James 1, I found my meditation this morning. As you read it, do not allow the familiarity to rob the words of their impact. “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. If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.” (James 1:2-5, NLT) In the NIV that opening line is “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials.”
Why can we choose to be joyful in times of trouble?
Because God assures us that these days serve a real purpose of making spiritual muscle. When we choose to allow the Spirit to work in us, when we are humble enough to admit our need, to put aside our personal desires we become ‘mature,’ growing a faith that is able to endure, ‘ready for anything.’ This flies in the face of our culture that encourages self-indulgence. Increasingly we confuse minor inconvenience with real catastrophe. God help us, truly.
In our pursuit of God’s joy, there is one thing that will surely block the way – trying to assume control of everything in life. When we make a little gods of ourselves life will inevitably become full of irritation over pressure, people, and problems! Trust this and live it – God rules. Nothing that is happening to you right now is a surprise to Him.
When faith grows, joy grows. “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:8-10, NIV)
Here’s a word from the Word. Let it draw a smile to your face as it rebirths joy in your heart. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, … And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NLT)
You – what a wonderful way to spell JOY!
Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Ode To Joy)
(a great presentation by Michael W. Smith)
Joyful joyful we adore Thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day
All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise
Field and forest vale and mountain
Flowery meadow flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee
Thou art giving and forgiving
Ever blessing ever blest
Wellspring of the joy of living
Ocean depth of happy rest
Thou our Father Christ our Brother
All who live in love are Thine
Teach us how to love each other
Lift us to the joy divine
Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us sunward
In the triumph song of life
Edward Hodges | Henry Van Dyke | Ludwig van Beethoven © Words: Public Domain