So much has been written lately about joy. How to find it. How to keep it. How to cultivate it. And how to practice it. We seem to run after it more than at any other time in history, according to how often it is the subject of articles, books and blog posts. So it is safe to say that joy isn’t a product of circumstances – because in many ways life is “easier” than during most eras of history. Yet, we feel the absence of and long for joy more now than ever. Because joy isn’t something that just comes naturally, it has to be cultivated. It has to be chosen. It has to be seized.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” -Romans 12:11-13
- Joy is based on hope. And hope is not just wishful thinking or being positive. It is the concrete belief that we are going to experience what God promised, both now and when we see Him face to face. Hope is knowing that He is at work to finish what He started in my life (whether I can see the results or not) and that He is committed to working through all things for our good and for His glory. Hope is that surety and confidence. Joy is the feet we put to that hope when we choose to live it out.
- Joy must be seized. It doesn’t happen naturally or by accident. We need to choose it, moment by moment. If joy is based on the hope of God’s presence, then seizing joy requires us to have our eyes always open. We need to be quick to recognize when God is moving and be quick to celebrate it. Celebrating God’s moving is the first step to living in joy because it gets us on board with what He is doing and it gets our eyes off of our temporary circumstances. But this isn’t always an easy thing. Being quick to celebrate requires us to trust God with the outcome. When I get that first inkling that God is moving, I am often skeptical (or at least cautiously guarded) because I feel the need to guard myself from disappointment. I think that if I celebrate too soon, it is being presumptuous because maybe I’m not totally sure yet. Or maybe I’m afraid to celebrate God’s moving because I’m afraid of the disappointment that happens if He stops? I see a stirring, but I reservedly tell myself to “wait and see” because I’m afraid that God is not big enough to deal with my disappointment if He acts differently than I’m expecting. But He is bigger than that! He wants me to watch for Him, trust Him, and jump right into the flow of where I see Him moving. I need to trust Him to not only course-correct me, but to heal me when His plans are different from mine. This deeper trust – based not on Him showing up to do what I want Him to do – but instead on the hope of His presence at every turn – is the basis of true joy.
- We are called to seize joy in the midst of ministry. Look at all of those ministry words that surround the command to “be joyful”. Zeal. Serve. Patient. Share. Hospitality. It doesn’t just come at the end of a hard days work. God calls us to joy in the midst of caring for His people. Those same people who He knows can be whiney, stubborn, and selfish. He calls us to serve them passionately, remembering that we are ultimately serving the Lord and not just people. And while ministry can be the affliction we are called to be patient in (v. 12) – it’s also true that it can be the reminder of the hope we are called to hold close. How often I am reminded of God’s presence by how I see Him show up in the lives I am pouring into. He speaks in a conversation. He heals through a touch. He comforts through us just being present in the midst of pain. He is there. And there is no greater source of joy than knowing that He is there – actively working in and through my life.