Some years ago, I went through a time when I was letting worries steal my joy. I was bogged down with many worries – most of which, in retrospect, were really pretty silly things to be worried about. As a result, I was not experiencing joy.
One day, my uncle said to me, “Did you know it is a command to be joyful?”
Truly, we are commanded to be joyful:
“Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, NET Bible)
“My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,” (James 1:2, NET Bible)
We are commanded to be joyful even during great trials – how much more so should we be joyful when we are not going through great trials!
Now, if we are commanded to do something, it must mean that there is an action required on our part.
When I was very little, my parents told me that joy is different from happiness – happiness is circumstantial but joy comes from God and is not dependent on circumstances. This is true. Problem was, even though I understood this, and even though I was a believer, I still didn’t have joy. Why not?
The answer is that I was not obeying the command to be joyful. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was a command. I thought God was just supposed to give me the joy without any action on my part.
Turns out all the fruits of the spirit require action. The fruits of the spirit are given by God, yet we are commanded to love, we are commanded to have patience, we are commanded to be kind, we are commanded to be good, we are commanded to be faithful, and we are commanded to control ourselves. (I’m not sure if we are commanded to have peace, but we are commanded to “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” (Romans 12:18, NET bible))
If the fruits of the spirit did not require action on our part, they would not have corresponding commands. Joy is no exception.
Not only are we commanded to have joy, but we are told, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, NET Bible). That means that if you neglect to chose joy, or if you let anyone or anything steal your joy, you are letting them steal your very strength. Think about that. What would a person without any strength – any strength at all – be like? They would not be able to get out of the bed in the morning, they would not be able to speak, they certainly would not be able to minister to others. Without our strength, we can’t do anything.
But how do we chose joy?
First, I am convinced that nothing steals our joy more than worry.
Let’s talk about worry. You know, there are a lot of things that we think are important that Jesus did not talk about – politics, slavery, women’s roles, even the church – these are all things that Jesus barely touched on, if he mentioned them at all. Certainly we can find teaching in the Bible on these subjects, but Jesus himself did not directly speak much on them while He was on earth. And yet, while He glanced over these subjects, that seem so important to us, there is one thing that Jesus said a whole lot about – worry.
What did Jesus say about worry? He said, <strong>don’t do it!:</strong>
“Therefore I tell you, <em>do not worry</em> about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 So then, <em>do not worry</em> about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34 , NET Bible, <em>emphasis mine</em>)
I think that, for those of us who are very familiar with this passage, we tend to think of it as a nice suggestion that Jesus is offering. We think “Yeah, good idea. Maybe we should worry less.” That’s a nice thought Jesus has.
But Jesus is the Son of God. So, when he tells us not to do something (like worry), it is a command. And that means it is a sin to worry.
OK, but how do I stop worrying?
I’ll tell you the one thing I have found to be the best medicine for worry – thankfulness!
Joy and thankfulness are mentioned side by side throughout the Bible (Colossians 1:12; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalm 107:22; Isaiah 51:3; Jeremiah 33:11)
<strong>When I decided to start choosing joy, I started making a new habit. Every time worries came into my mind, I immediately said <em>out loud</em> something I was thankful for.</strong>
Same thing for general anxiousness, regrets, complaints, or other such thoughts. (Regret is really a type of worry – it’s worrying about the past. Complaining is the second biggest joy killer after worry. It’s also something we’re commanded not to do – and, fortunately, it has the same antidote as worry – thankfulness!)
So, in a very short time, the worries started going away. I felt better, freer, like a burden was lifted off me. My husband noticed a difference.
And since then, this habit of choosing joy, has brought me through many things.
When we first moved to India, my husband was travelling a lot for work. The first year we were here, it seemed like he was gone all the time – and that was pretty much the case. So, I was alone – away from relatives and friends – in a new country, with a new culture, new language … and with two small children who were also adjusting to these changes … And it was one of the most joyful times of my life!
Why? Because every time something went wrong, every time there was a disappointment, setback, or worry, I immediately said <em>out loud</em> something I was thankful for – it got to the point where my daughter said, “I know, I know, you love everything about India.”
And I do love all the gifts God has given me, not the least of which, my experience in India!
One of the many things I was thankful for during that initial time in India, was all the children who would come play at our house. I’m so grateful to those kids for embracing my children with friendship from the start. One day, one special little girl, who had been playing at my house, asked me, “May I make a sign for your front door that says, ‘THIS HOUSE IS A HOUSE OF JOY!’?”
I had never spoken to this little girl about joy, much less about my conscious choice, but she named what she sensed in our home.
Choosing joy uplifts yourself, it uplifts others, and it is pleasing to God!
There is one Bible story that illustrates this better than any other: the story of Joshua and Caleb. (Numbers 13 and 14).
When Moses sent twelve spies into the land God had promised to give them, they all saw the same thing: The land was good, with much good fruit, but the people living there were numerous and strong.
All of the spies admitted there was good fruit in the land. And Joshua and Caleb never denied the report about the strength of the people.
But the other ten chose to focus on the obstacles, while only Joshua and Caleb chose to trust God and focus on the potential fruit.
And that difference in attitude made all the difference to God.
In fact, God said that Caleb had a different spirit [from the others] (Numbers 14: 4).
The other ten spies were immediately struck dead by a plague (Numbers 14:36-38). And because all the people had sided with the other ten, God did not allow any from that generation, except Joshua and Caleb, to enter the promised land. Instead they would have to wander the desert for forty years until all from that generation, except Joshua and Caleb, had passed away. Then Joshua and Caleb led their children into the promised land.
Your attitude matters to God!