faith · family · life

pure joy

If you been reading here for any length of time, you know that some of our family lives twenty plus hours away and we usually only see them once or twice a year. This is often hard on my momma-heart. We recently made a trip to visit friends and family and, best of all, to meet our brand new grandlittle (who is, of course, just adorable!). We also had the privilege of hanging out with our northern boy’s littles so he and his lovely wife could take an anniversary trip. I cannot tell you how awesome that was! I loved being a part of their day to day for a whole week.

As it turns out, we were able to celebrate our granddaughter’s birthday while there. That doesn’t happen very often!

This sweet little girl was diagnosed with CdLS spectrum disorder which includes some developmental delays as well as a myriad of other conditions. Her variation also happens to include a “happy gene.” Our girl, G, has the sunniest disposition ever.

So sorry, I know it’s a bit of a rabbit trail there, but it will come into play presently.

I wanted to do something G would enjoy for her special day. One of her most favourite things in the whole world is a balloon. Any kind of balloon–colourful mylar, helium, plain old latex–doesn’t matter one whit to her. So we bundled up and headed to the dollar store for some balloons. She knows this store well; I could feel her anticipation as we trudged through the snow and approached the glass doors. We wandered through the aisles and placed a few little things into the cart, but the bag of heart-shaped balloons was clutched tightly to her chest.

Once home, we left the car with balloons safely in hand. She wasted no time divesting herself of her outerwear and immediately held out the balloons to be filled with air. I wish you could see the smile that lit up her beautiful face as she proudly held her new treasure.

She practically vibrated with pure joy.

I ask myself: Do I have such joy?

What is joy?

Don’t worry, be happy.  Happy as a clam. If you’re happy and you know it…Jump for joy. A joy to behold. Bursting with joy.  Pride and joy.  

These phrases express an enthusiastic emotion. We often use joy and happiness interchangeably in our modern language; even the dictionary definitions are not so different: a positive response to favourable circumstances.  Sadly, for some of us, this can be fleeting. We may be happy with the way things are…until we aren’t. The situation changes. We change our minds. It wasn’t what we had expected. This is not the same as God-given joy: a peace and quiet contentment outside of my circumstances. An overflowing thankfulness in my heart that cannot be contained. Yes, sometimes outright jubilation!

Biblical joy brings the right perspective…or perhaps vice versa?

Some people, like our G, are naturally cheerful and content. But Biblical joy is not a general disposition or temperament, but a legacy of God.  This joy is not about faking it–pasting a smile on my face regardless of how I’m feeling.  It is not contingent to the situation, instead it is how I choose to view the situation.  We are imperfect people living imperfect lives. Thankfully, we have an awesome God who wants us to know His unshakeable joy.  

Joy, like many of the spiritual fruits, has both passive and active aspects. On the one hand, God gives it as a gift. On the other, we are required to do something: look to God–the source of joy–to abide in [Him] and [Him] in you…so [His] joy may be in you and your joy may be complete (John15:1,11). There are many passages in the Bible that are God’s own encouraging words to us about lasting joy. These promises are scriptural truths we can grab hold of when our souls are weary. They remind us that He can bring us through it.  And in the process, He is making us more like His Son. These words also remind us of the necessity of staying close to Him through prayer and His Word during times of difficulty for a joy-filled life. Abide. Stay where you are. I must stay in intimate fellowship.  There are a few aspects associated with abiding in the vine.  I am to be connected to Jesus, in intimate fellowship. This is a mutual existence.  Yet, I am to be dependent on Jesus. My position is in Christ. He is the source of transforming power, of strength and cleansing. Finally, I am to remain in Jesus. Stay where I am, rest in Him, make my relationship with Him a priority.

I love the Psalms. They portray the full gamut of human emotion. David, in particular, often begins his prose in a state of despair but you can feel the transformation as he prays, reminds himself of who God is, and how He has already shown Himself faithful. In Psalm 30, we see David’s humble posture before the Lord. He understands that his position as king and as victor over his enemies has little to do with who he is, but everything to do with who God is. David recognized that while life can be messy, rife with sickness and oppression, his God would sustain him.

The same goes for us.  We have messy lives, too.  The same God who sustained David in trying times will be our strength as well.  When we belong to Him, we do not face our giants alone. Isn’t it beautiful?  While we may weep for a time, joy comes in the morning.  We may never be out from under the weight of difficult things in this short life, but He carries us through and promises us that we will have great joy ahead.  An eternity of joy with Him.

Paul, too, sounds hopeless in Romans 7:14-25 as he shares the struggle between our natural man and the believer as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—that is until the very end. He asks the question, Who will deliver me? and answers himself with this, I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He continues to explain what Jesus has accomplished for us in the next chapter. It is not hopeless. We fight this war, but He has already won the victory!  There is this aspect that is a done deal (because it is through Christ), but there is also the human aspect of our character, our choices.  That’s why we are told to put on Christ: The enemy likes nothing better than for us to forget our identity in Christ, to be distracted by our shortcomings rather than the fact that our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:2) and we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Romans 8:37).

Let’s keep this putting off and putting on of Colossians 3:1-7 in mind as we consider the importance of choosing joy. Again, the enemy would like nothing more than to get our ‘heads out of the game’, to immobilize us so that we are inefficient in our Kingdom work.  He doesn’t want us to put on joy.  He wants us to take our eyes off the Lord, forfeit our gift of joy and instead put on discouragement, bitterness, anger, resentment, complaining…all manner of bad attitudes.  

God wants us to stand on His promises.  God wants us to enter into his joy.  Psalm 16 may be a Messianic psalm; but, as we are heirs with Christ, I believe verse 11 would apply to us as well:  You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore

Pure joy and gratitude go hand in hand.

Real joy will most assuredly follow when we are living each day with ‘an attitude of gratitude’.  Once more, this does not mean I fake thankfulness or happiness for bad things that happen.  It means that I can always find something for which to be thankful, in spite of difficult conditions.  When we choose to put on Christ and the fruit that is borne through Him, we will be blessed with real joy—there will be no need to fake it.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us this:  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Joy, prayer and thankfulness…words to live by.

You can’t fake pure joy.

Can we ‘fake it till you make it’?  While we may be able to outwardly look like we’ve got a handle on a difficult situation, ultimately we cannot fake joy.  Real, lasting joy cannot be fabricated; it springs from a life lived in relationship with Jesus. While our circumstances may be difficult, we understand that God is still present. We sometimes face sorrow, disappointment and hurt feelings.  Joy does not mean we fake it with a counterfeit smile pasted on our faces.  It means we have peace in spite of our difficulties because we know He cares for us. 

Some time ago, we watched a movie called Inside Out with our kids.  This story of a girl whose life is uprooted as she moves across the country is an interesting look at how her personified emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) conflict over how to deal with her situation.  

Joy was Riley’s predominant emotion helping her navigate life.  We see that Joy manages to keep the other emotions from directing Riley’s actions.  I thought it was very interesting to see the interactions and parrying between the emotions as Riley prepares for the transitions she faces.  She was going from a life she loved, where it was easy to be happy, into the unknown. Joy is able to put a positive spin on most situations, until Sadness interferes with Joy’s efforts.  In her desperation to keep Sadness at bay, calamity strikes and Joy gets lost. Riley is acting ‘weird’—unlike herself, so the other emotions try to imitate Joy.  Fear, Anger and Disgust try to keep up the appearance of Riley’s natural disposition; but of course, they fail miserably.  When Disgust is told she doesn’t sound like Joy, she responds, “Uuuuhhh, because I’m not Joy!”

Have you lost your Joy? How can pure joy be fostered?

  • Abide in Jesus. Lean on the Holy Spirit. Stay connected through the Word, prayer and fellowship. Set your mind on things above…  (Colossians 3:2). Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…  (James 4:8)
  • Cultivate praise and gratitude. Thank God for all He is and does. Has God met a need?  Praise Him. Have challenges allowed you to see Him at work?  Thank Him.  Joy flows from a grateful and responsive heart. We must focus on the truth of His goodness. Whatever is true and noble, focus on these things… (Philippians 4:8). Remember to count your blessings…gratitude changes your attitude! Meditate on why you trust Him, His character.  Record reasons for rejoicing, reminders of God’s faithfulness in everyday life.  Journal J-O-Y: thankfulness for Jesus, Others, You (this could be all the little things that bless you). Try other methods: joy journal, jar, box, chalkboard, etc.  Whatever works for you; the main thing is that we are reflecting on His faithfulness and focusing on His promises. Psalm 37:3 says, feed on His faithfulness. Remember how good the Lord is daily! Bless the Lord! (Psalm 103:1)
  • When joy feels elusive—ask Him for it.  Elisha asked for Elijah’s spirit, but for a double portion. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.  God wants this fruit to be evident in our lives. 
  • Spend time with joyful people.  Joy is contagious.  Build relationships with those who have confidence in God.  Pray for each other. Be that person for someone else!
  • Approach life’s challenges as one who has been redeemed. We live in a broken world. God uses trials to develop His character in you. Process pressure productively.  Joy just might sneak up on us when we look at these lessons as gifts from God–especially if we are resting in His presence.  The Bible says, Be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). That means be still in your situation, in your flesh and emotions, and trust Him that He is working all things together for [your] good (Romans 8:28).  We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 that when we are weak, He is our strength.
  • Fill your mind with music. Listen.  Sing.  Meditate on the lyrics of music that draws your heart nearer to God and His Word.
  • Take the long view. There will be daily ups and downs.  Struggling and running on empty. Getting a little too comfortable.  Distraction and detachment. Remember that God remains in charge of your now and forever.  Whatever is going on, He is doing a work in you.  Joy springs from viewing the day’s events from eternity’s perspective. Trust that God knows the details (Romans 8:8), He hears your every request (Psalm 116:1), and His joy will be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

In a nutshell, choosing pure joy requires a relationship with the source of joy—God.  It is a decision to stand on His promises, to trust Him.  Let’s rejoice in our salvation–we are in Christ and Christ is in us!  Let’s be aware of those things that steal our joy.  Take them to the Lord and leave them at His feet.  May our joy be full, as He has intended!

May I leave you with this little metaphor as a final thought?

You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you, making you spill your coffee everywhere.
Why did you spill the coffee?
You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup.
Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea.

The point is whatever is inside the cup, is what will spill out.

Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which will happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled. So, we have to ask ourselves,

“What’s in my cup?”

When life gets tough, what spills out?
Joy, gratefulness, peace and humility?
Or does anger, bitterness, harsh words and reactions come out?

You choose!

Today, let’s work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation, kindness, gentleness and love for others.

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