I’ve been thinking about joy for quite some time now. Or rather, why we Christians display such a lack of it. If you go to any Christian news publication or blog post and read the comment section, you will instantly see what I mean.
Ugly bitterness, arrogance and hatred spewed across the lines of text. Sitting behind a keyboard gives a certain level of anonymity, and we’ve all made the mistake of doing or saying things we would never do or say in person. However, Jesus says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
Substitute “keyboard” for “mouth” and it’s pretty clear that Christians have some real ugliness hiding inside their hearts.
Christians, first and foremost, are broken and sinful humans, living in a broken and sinful world. We deal with the same hurts and brokenness as everyone else. The world is cold, dark, calculating and ruthless.
As Christians, we are not supposed to look the same as the world. We are called to be “in the world, but not of the world” several times. What should that look like? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The very things our world longs for.
If you, like the rest of us, struggle with reflecting joy to the world, here are some things to remember.
The Holy Spirit Gives Joy.
Without the Holy Spirit, there is no joy. Joy is a by-product of your relationship with God. It comes from knowing Him deeply, and believing what He says about you. It is a lifetime of work and there’s no quick fix. But there’s no better time to start than today. When you live your life under the authority of the Holy Spirit rather than your own, joy is one of the natural outcomes. You can’t earn it, you can’t fake it. It is a gift—a gift of presence.
Celebrate Your Lack of Control.
Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God’s people are commanded to celebrate. To laugh, be happy and enjoy what God has done. When you do this, you are remembering that God is the one in control. It’s not up to you to fix the world’s problems, or even your own. So relax. This doesn’t mean that you ignore responsibilities or make light of serious and important things. It only means that you remember who is ultimately in control and rest in that knowledge.
So when you’ve had that day—the kind when your kid throws up in the car, you were late for work, your presentation wasn’t ready, the dog pooped in the house and dinner was burned, what if, instead of becoming angry, or turning to something to help you “cope,” you laid down your “right” to be in control and just laughed? Laughing reduces stress and increases endorphins. It makes you a more pleasant person to be around. Even better, it might be the most God-honoring decision you could make.
Cultivate Life-Giving Relationships.
One of the biggest hindrances to joy, is the presence of relationships in your life that affect you in a toxic way. People who are constantly negative, have constant drama, make demands of you, misunderstand your motivations or otherwise degrade your sense of value or worth can suck the joy right out of you.
If you find yourself in these kinds of relationships, it might be time to take a step back. Yes, one of the fruits of the spirit is love. But love looks like establishing healthy boundaries and not allowing others to take advantage of you.
I am reminded of that time in Mark when Jesus returns to His hometown to teach. His message was not received and He was abused and talked down to. I’m sure that was hurtful to Him. These were the people He grew up with, played with as a child—He loved them, and they abused Him. He left because He understood that He could not do what He was called to do in that place. He later taught the disciples to “shake the dust” from their sandals whenever they encountered towns that did not receive their message.
Sometimes these relationships are hindering you from following your call. Sometimes they hinder you from having a relationship with the Holy Spirit and experiencing joy in your own life. In these cases, it is OK to “shake the dust.” Find and build relationships with people who love, value, accept and believe in you. You will be amazed at how much more free and happy you feel.
Spend Some Time Alone.
Yes, even you extroverts. This is not just a suggestion, it is a necessity. There is constant noise clamoring for your attention and stressing you out. In order for your brain to function properly, you need to disconnect regularly.
The amount of time needed, or what this looks like, is going look different for you than it does for me. But it’s necessary. When your soul is in chaos, it is difficult to be joyful. Jesus himself would regularly retreat into solitude in order to reconnect with His Father and remember who He was and why He was here.
Retreating into solitude is necessary for you in the same way that it was necessary for Jesus. You need to disconnect from the world and its messages of where your worth comes from. You must reconnect to the Holy Spirit who tells you the truth. This is the only way to live with joy in your spirit.
In Acts we are told that because of the gospel, we are the ones whose hearts should be glad, whose words should be joyful and whose lives should be full of hope. No one said it would be easy—just that it’s necessary.