If we were created with a joy meter of some kind and everyone could see just how joy-filled we are, where would your level be? Overflowing? Maybe it needs topping off? Half full? Running on empty? Or just totally drained? Often we allow our circumstances to determine how “joy-filled” we are. It’s the logical thing to do. We get impatient and aggravated when traffic is backed up and we’re late. Something goes wrong at work and we grumble and complain. We feel we are treated unjustly at work and get hurt or angry. A friend betrays us and we are deeply hurt. Emotions are a gift that God gave us when he created us and there is nothing wrong with emotions. In Ecclesiastes 3, King Solomon wrote: “To every thing there is a season, a time to every purpose under the heaven (vs 1)” He goes on to say in verse 4, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and time to dance.” However, sometimes our verbal response and how we act out those emotions can get us into trouble. God did not create us to go around with a fake smile when things are not good. However, as Christians, even when things seem to fall apart around us, we have something that the world does not have…the joy of Christ living in us.
The Apostle Paul wrote “Always be full of joy. Pray constantly, Give thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Regardless of our circumstances, Paul gives us three instructions:
- Always be full of joy. Even when life seems to be attacking us on all sides, we can be full of joy knowing that God has everything under control. The Bible is full of promises that we can claim such as: “For I know the plans I have for you’, saith the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you a hope and future.” (Jer. 29:11). James tells us in his book that we are to “count it all joy.” Philippians 4:4 says we should “rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say rejoice” and verse 11 says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Over in the Old Testament book, Habakkuk, we read, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18) For us today, it would be like saying, “Though there is no food in the house, the electricity has been cut off, no gas in the car and the bank is coming to take the house, I will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God my Savior.” That would be extremely hard to do, yet I can choose to rejoice in a God that loves me and has a plan and purpose for my life and that he is busy working all things out for my good and for his glory. The joy that He gives, comes from deep within and from a peace that only God can give. Joy can co-exist with grief, hurt, and disappointment. We have joy, even in difficult times, because of our salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. We have joy because we have eternal life. We can have joy because we have surety and are eternally secure in Christ. Once we are saved, no one can pluck us out of his hand (John 10:28). And we can have joy because Christ is our fortress … our hiding place…our place of safety. And we can rejoice because God gives us strength to endure any trail.
- Pray constantly. Living joyful in difficult times is not easy! I think this is one reason why Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God.” No matter what our circumstances are, God cares about them and he hears us when we take them to Him in prayer. In Matthew 6:25-29, Jesus teaches, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” God cares about every minute little detail of your life. When we “pray constantly,” it means that we go through life with a constant attitude of prayer, fully conscious of God and totally surrendered to him each minute of the day. From the time we wake up until our eyes close in sleep we should have an awareness that God is right there with us and he is an active participate in whatever we are facing in life….good or bad. It means that we have a constant participant in life and we should keep him in our every thought. When we do, then our actions will reflect it. Joshua 1:9 reminds us that God has promised, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
- Give thanks in everything. When times get tough, it can be hard to give thanks and praise God. Yet, if you look hard enough there is always something you can give God thanks for. There will always be something for which you can praise Him. If your frustrated and stuck in traffic, thank Him that you are safe and not in an accident. If you have experienced the betrayal of a friendship, give thanks for God’s forgiveness for the times you have failed Him and then look to extend that forgiveness to your friend. When money is tight, think about the times when God has provided before and thank Him for those times. If your boss is hard and unfair, thank God for giving you a job that provides for your needs….and look for ways to show Christ to your boss through your actions and dealings with him or her. And for the times when you can’t think of anything else to praise Him for, praise Him for the gift of Salvation. If the words of praise just won’t come, put some praise music on and sing along. Even if it isn’t in your heart at first, your heart will soon catch to the lyrics you sing.
What an opportunity you have to present your life as a testimony to God when the world sees you full of joy, always praying, and giving thanks in everything.