How to Grow in Your Faith-Surprised by Joy

There is a lack of joy in our society today.

The culture I live in wants to point out what is missing in your life while offering a solution: the product they are selling. If you purchase (insert item here) you will have meaning in your life.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with having stuff as long as stuff doesn’t have you. But it wasn’t always like this for me. Allow me to explain. Maybe my struggles can help you with some you may be going through.

For years, I used to think my work would help to define me. If I was successful, then I could purchase things which would make me happy. But what I found out is the things I would purchase would for a moment, but then leave me empty or the feeling would wane later on. Sometimes the very things I would buy would end up in the Goodwill store.

I used to own a Chevy pickup and I thought my personality was tied into the vehicle itself, which is funny to think about how you are what you drive, but that was my mentality at the time. I spent time doing whatever it was that brought me pleasure, but seldom had much depth to it.

While living this way, I was secretly comparing my life with others. It started out innocent enough. How did they get that car? Why is that guy with that girl? But it would always lead down darker paths such as, “He gets all the breaks,” or “, it must be nice to have so many talents.”

Theodore Roosevelt was right: comparison is the thief of joy. It never does a person any good to see where they lack. I spent too many years to count living this way and always felt terrible about myself and realized it wasn’t helping me, but it was preventing me from real growth or change.

I needed a dose of humility.

God answered the request although I don’t remember asking Him for it.

Two job losses inside of 4 years showed me never to put my happiness in my income or my profession. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with loving the work you do, but I think God wanted me to do something different. When the plant closed, many I knew and worked with suffered from depression and some of them ended their lives. I identified with the feeling of loss but knew it was dangerous for me to get stuck there.

And somewhere along the way, I realized I had been living an American ideal, not a Christian one. The pursuit of happiness is truly symbolic for what many Americans live for, but it’s never mentioned in the Bible once. If you are reading this right now and thinking I’ve lost my mind, realize I lost something more than that a long time ago and I haven’t been the same ever since.

We are never promised happiness in this world, far from it for some of us. We should never live only for what makes us happy because what can make a person happy can be bad for other people. What bothered me for many years, and it seemed to wreck my friends’ lives, is when they would pursue happiness and the detriment of their family. For example, the husband or wife would chase a career but miss the very lives of their family. When you say yes to something you tend to say no to something else. There are many examples to choose from. Think about a time when you made a choice that pleased you but later down the line you found you hurt someone else with your choice.

In 2010, I lost the second job and realized my life was shallow. I learned to chase after things and pleasures left me empty and never satisfied. But I hadn’t learned what joy really meant. Happiness is usually brought on by what happens to you, but joy is more spiritual than that. It means a met need in hopeful anticipation, a celebration, a jubilee. Joy can be a state of mind or an orientation of the heart spilling over into sharing time with someone, love of a spouse, or through an adventure one takes; it can happen within the pages of a book savored on a crisp morning or the aroma of coffee hanging in the air.

Joy is not what only happens to you, but becomes a mindset, a spiritual direction or compass for a person’s life. This can only be learned by spending time within the presence of God because joy is the result of knowing God more fully.

I’ve known people who went through some of the worst things a person could imagine and saw their joy intact. There are people who lose a job, a family member, or their very health and they still exude joy. How is that possible?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.-James 1:2-3

Every time I read this I wondered how much a person would have to go through to be able to say this to another person and know the depths of its truth. It seems alien to say it is pure joy when going through difficult things. I know it isn’t intended to be glib but comes from the depths of one’s own personal experience. James went through persecution like all of the other disciples.

When our lives are in shambles, joy is an option for those who have faith. Sometimes it’s the only option. To dwell on the lack of what we have or the trials we are facing, we are reminded our lives are part of a larger story.

For me, joy became a choice, but it didn’t come over night. I’ll also say I’m a student of joy, not an expert.

Joy was with me in the form of my loving wife telling me it was going to be okay while waiting on the neurosurgeon to come to the room as tears ran down my face from the pain that was crippling me.

Joy was in the pain of therapy as I restored strength into my arm which hadn’t been working and my neck as I worked through the pain.

Joy was in the reading of many books that helped me to travel to where I currently am knowing God put the right book in my hands at the right time.

Joy comes when I offer up myself to help another along the way and rejoices when someone finally grows closer to God. Watching another person grow into the truest version of themselves God intended brings me to life.

My joy comes in the knowledge of being called beloved by God and knowing I do not have to earn His love. He doesn’t remove it when I mess up and I always have a place to call home.

It seems life is teeming with joy, but one must also practice it and I do so every day by being intentional about what I am thankful for. It’s a good infection which brings living waters into the deep forest of our souls when nothing else can reach it. And out of joy comes so many more beautiful things that it adds to itself.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.-Brené Brown

We have the right to bear arms, but we also have the right to drop them. For many years I lived my life with them up and loaded, but once I realized I had a serious lack of deep relationships I knew I had heavily armored myself.

Joy doesn’t come by picking a fight but wanders in when we let our guard down.

I noticed in the Gospels, Jesus spelled out love. When Peter picked up a sword he cut a man’s ear off. Jesus walked over and put the ear back on the guard who was sent to take him away. Why is that?

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.-Hebrews 12:2 italics mine

It was because of the joy set before Him. Have you ever seen things more clearly from a distance than close up? Sometimes it’s better to keep an eye on the bigger picture, which means we have to take a step back from where we are to look at where we are going.

One day, the joy we long for will be realized. You will be able to taste it, to feel it all around you, and see beauty so sheer it will make your eyes squint from its radiance. Even in this life, there are spectacular opportunities to experience such a joy.

When life hits us the hardest, joy is our answer, and so is love.

Joy is an eternal answer to the difficult questions we ask here. Those who live with joy know it’s something to cling to in a storm or going through chemo, it stays with us when we lose ourselves and is an anchor, our hope, and very invaluable. To have joy is to remember what we may be going through is only helping us stay the course and shut out all the noise of the voices around us who only dwell in fear, sometimes our own voices also, and remember there is Someone who fights for us.

One of my favorite series of books is the Chronicles of Narnia, from Jack. He suffered much loss in his own life, but it was his joy which led him to Jesus. Jack knew if joy was present then someone designed it because it made no logical sense to experience it unless it came from outside our own world. He is right, there is more to our stories and they have only yet begun.

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.-The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

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