“I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4b
I know Christians are supposed to be joyful people. And I realize that joy is a result of having the Spirit in me. . .that among all the people of the earth, Christians have the greatest reason to be full of joy. But, sometimes life steps in and robs me of the joy. I know I should feel it, but sometimes I just don’t. The question emerges: Is joy something I should just wait for? Will it just come upon me?
I am not alone. There seems to be a great absence of joy in the lives of many Christians and congregations today. Of the several “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5), joy seems to be the most elusive. Many feel reluctant to become overly expressive or enthusiastic about their faith. I’m not sure what lies at the root of our reticence.
Interestingly enough, the Bible never recommends that we “rejoice”, it commands us to do so (“I will say it again: Rejoice!” Phil. 4:4). When I first realized this, a few questions immediately came to mind: How can I suddenly have the emotion of joy? According to the Bible, how can it be cultivated? In short, what can I do to work on my joy?
After plowing through some of these questions, I made up my mind a few years ago that I wanted to be a joyful Christian, not periodically, but consistently. I wanted to be a person who regularly experiences the “fullness of joy” that Christ promised. Most of all, I wanted my experience and expression to be authentic, to be real, and hopefully contagious.
The pathway to joy, however, has not always been an easy one to navigate. It has become clear to me that God won’t force the expression of joy upon us. Much like a host throwing a party, who invites you to the event in full hopes that you will absolutely enjoy yourself, he provides all that is needed for a good time – the atmosphere, the food, the people – but your attitude and actions determine how much you enjoy the event.
In order to tap into the joy supply that Christ has secured for us, it will require some discipline. Joy is not only something felt within, it must be cultivated and practiced. Happiness is fleeting and random, but joy is nurtured and grown. Joyful people practice these Biblical habits regularly. The Bible makes it clear that certain disciplines in our daily routine will lead to a greater sense of joy.
Several years ago I was sitting in a routine church staff meeting when one of the staff members told us of a young man who had made a recent commitment to Christ at a small group. After a couple of token nods of heads around the room, the pastor proceeded to rebuke us: “Hey, guys! Did you hear what I just heard? Someone gave his heart to Christ this week. Now, c’mon, let’s hear it!” Then he broke out into clapping, shouting and whistling in celebration. The rest of us joined in.
The point was well taken. Seeing people come to Christ was one of our reasons for existence as a church. Watching them continue to grow and reach others is another reason for joy. When someone takes these steps, we need to mark the moments and to mark them with joy. After all, if the angels in heaven stop and rejoice (Luke 15:10), shouldn’t we? To this day, I have never forgotten that important lesson.
(There are several other ways the Bible instructs us to “work on our joy” … more of them to come this week at “The Current”!)