Practicing Joy

I’m not a Christmas-card sending person; I’m more of a “post a Christmas picture to Instagram” kind of person. (Stamps are expensive, you guys!). But I absolutely love receiving Christmas cards. Last month I was staring at my refrigerator, which was decorated with photos of family and friends. My eyes scanned the festive holiday greetings on each card:  

Peace, Love, Joy

Joy to the world

Oh, JOY! 

Wishing you joy now and always

Be joyful!

Every Christmas card we received (okay, except for two) had the word joy in the greeting. As I laughed about this to my husband, he casually remarked, “Well, maybe God is trying to tell you something.”

“Maybe,” I thought. “Or maybe there’s just a lot of pre-designed Christmas cards with the word joy on them.” 

But God continued to highlight joy to me - on signs, pictures, in conversation, even through random podcasts. So I began to ask the Lord what he wanted to teach me about joy.

For many leaders, including myself in certain seasons, the burdens and the business of our work can swallow the joy that comes from following Jesus. There are people to disciple, problems to solve, volunteers to coordinate, set lists and sermons to plan, budgets to write…no time to celebrate, to find the joy in co-laboring with God. Even though the work we do is good, some of us have believed the lie that God is more pleased with our success in the work He has given us than He is with our joy in the work He has given us. Jesus got a lot of work done. He was the most efficient and successful person to ever live (seriously, feeding five thousand people from five loaves and two fish?!). But he was full of joy; he took time to celebrate, to feast, to laugh, and to enjoy the life he was given.

Maybe business isn’t what hinders you from joy. Maybe pain is the main thief of joy in your life. Pain because of failure, or loss, or fear. Jesus didn’t ignore pain, but he trusted the goodness of the Father in the midst of it. Joy is not only found when there is a lack of pain; joy is found in the midst of pain. Paul writes in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As you trust in him. This trust, this reliance on God in every circumstance, is what brings hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And when we are filled with joy in the midst of pain, we inspire that hope in others. Through every circumstance, be steadfast in pursuing God and the joy that comes from being in His presence. As 1 Peter 1:6 reminds us, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”

It takes hard work to be joyful. I’m still learning what it means to be a joyful person, still wrestling with this idea of being joyful in the midst of business & pain. But I’m choosing to trust the Lord, knowing He is good and He is the source of all joy.

In the process of learning to find joy, here are some practical ideas that I’ve found helpful toward cultivating joy:

  1. Find a joy mentor. This is something I’ve learned from John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Find someone who you look up to, who bursts with the fruit of the spirit that is joy. Acknowledge when you don’t feel joyful, and be honest with them about what you’re going through and about what is hindering you from finding joy. Learn from them. Joy is contagious, so place yourself in a position where you can catch it. 
  2. Practice thankfulness. Intentionally write out what you’re thankful for each day. Maybe ask your joy mentor, spouse, or close friend to ask you about what you’re thankful for. Remind yourself of all that the Lord has blessed you with. 
  3. Be present. The enemy is masterful at reminding us of our regrets from the past and our fears of the future, so it can be hard to be present to where God is working in the here-and-now. Take deep breaths and open your eyes to what God is currently doing. 
  4. Know what gives you life and make it a priority. What do you enjoy? If you had an open day with no responsibilities, and you couldn’t work, what would you spend the day doing? Do that. Put it on your calendar. Sabbath isn’t just an ancient religious tradition; it’s not even a choice. It’s a command. Read, swim, spend time with your children, see a movie, dance, bake something…make time to do the things that you enjoy.
  5. Try something new. Take a step out of your comfort zone and try doing something that you’ve never done before. Ask a friend or your spouse to do it with you. Maybe it’s rock climbing, or dancing, or ice skating. Practice not taking yourself too seriously. Practice enjoying the life you’ve been given.
  6. Invest in others. Spend time with your community. Ask someone in your church or on your team if they need help with anything this week. Invite your neighbors over for a meal and get to know them a little better. Cry with those around you who are grieving or in pain. Generously give joy and hope to others. Turn your gaze away from your circumstances and join God in where He is working somewhere else.
  7. Spend time with God. Not to plan a devotional. Not so you can make sure you have something to say in between songs. Spend time with God for you. Abide in him, learn to trust his voice and his plan. Hear him tell you he loves you, and that he gave you this life to enjoy with him. 

Remain confident in what Psalm 16:11 tells us, “In [his] presence there is fullness of joy.” Joy follows God everywhere, so continue abiding in him, and be encouraged that there truly is joy ahead.