In the peak of my frustration, God called me to be joyful right where I was. How?! My patience was gone. Anxiety was high. I couldn’t see an end in sight. How could I find sustainable, unshakable, everlasting joy? I started listening and he is teaching me. Today I’m sharing the secret to joy and also sharing a free printable poster!
How about you? What is troubling you right now?
Having a hard time in your marriage? Having a difficult time with a child — either young or grown? Are you tired of being single? Are you battling an addiction? Are finances pressing down on you? Are you waiting on something? Maybe it’s not just one thing, but a combination of things together that are overwhelming.
The Bible tells us we can still be joyful in the midst of suffering! In fact, it says that rejoicing is the will of God for us. It’s a command. And it’s a choice.
My trial is a combination of difficult things. It brought on depression and a feeling of hopelessness. There was a feeling of restlessness and discord in our house that was not from the Lord. The kids were constantly fighting, Marcello and I were continually miscommunicating. Fuses were short, and we were all frustrated.
One night I prayed for a change. When everyone was asleep and the house was dark, I went through every room in our house, kneeling and tearfully asking for peace and joy over each person. And the next night. And the next night. Peace and joy, peace and joy. I’m still doing it.
Things started happening. My mother-in-law noticed a change and asked me what was going on. I told her I was praying! “Keep doing it!” she said. Messages of joy started popping up everywhere. I heard songs about joy. Verses jumped off the page about joy. Someone gave me a grateful journal. I picked a book off the shelf and it was about joy. “joy.” by King and Country played first in my Spotify shuffle.
I sensed God was calling me to write this post, but I got distracted by freelance design work and felt uncertain I could articulate what I was learning. I thought I’d put it off for awhile. Later that day I turned on the radio and heard a message about joy — specifically detailing what God has taught me and what I had already drafted. Ok, Lord! Let’s do it!
So, let’s define how I’m using the words happiness and joy in this post. They’re not the same.
Happiness: fleeting delight that comes and goes with circumstances
Joy: a state of contentment in the soul regardless of circumstance; given by the Holy Spirit; found in relationship, worship and awe of GOD and His creation
Circumstances change, Jesus does not. We can rejoice that he loves us, died for us, intervenes for us and made Heaven our eternal home if we trust in him!
I don’t know who had more reason to be joyless than Paul. He persecuted Christians with all his might and zeal only to find out he was on the wrong side. He called himself the worst of sinners, knowing that he had sent many innocent to their deaths. On top of that, once he changed sides and lived his life for Jesus, he himself was persecuted — in every way. In his own words:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.“ — 2 Corinthians 23-27
Yet he rejoiced.
Paul wrote his secret to joy when he was under house arrest, awaiting trial to appeal to Emperor Nero. Even through the immense stress of the circumstance, he used the words “joy” and “rejoice” a dozen times in his letter to the Philippians.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:4-7
Did you catch the secret? Rejoice in the Lord. That’s it! The only source of joy is the Lord. Did you know that? Without him, there is nothing good. He didn’t create evil; evil is the absence of the Lord and his goodness. So if you are looking for peace and joy to mark your life, you have to look to Him for it.
To rejoice in the Lord, Paul instructs us to pray about everything and make our requests with a thankful heart. When we follow this path God has showed us, He will be our peace! He didn’t say follow a formula and I will end your trial, He says come to Him and He will give us a crazy peace that we can’t even understand.
Trials are certain. You’re either in one, coming out of one or heading into one. And it does not mean God is against you or punishing you. There are consequences for sin, but some trials are not a result of sin. As Pastor J.D. Greear puts it: “Storms aren’t pay back. They are to bring you back.”
Let’s talk about some things that hinder our joy and keep us from enjoying a fruitful relationship with God.
Strongholds in thinking
If you can rein in your thoughts, you win half the battle. If you can detach yourself from a line of thinking that is not godly, Satan loses power. Our enemy can and does suggest thoughts to us, but we choose whether or not to entertain them. When a sinful, mean, negative, hurtful or lustful thought enters your mind, it is not in that moment a sin. But when you choose to engage it, fantasize about it, roll around in it for awhile, it becomes sin and a hindrance from joy.
And over time, patterns of thinking are harder to change. Get a handle on it yesterday. It’s literally interrupting and shifting your natural brain patterns and signals.
If everyone could see your thoughts projected onto the wall, what would we see?
Would they be positive and uplifting or negative and destructive? What are you saying about yourself? What are you saying about others?
Don’t cut yourself down as you look in the mirror or tell yourself that you’re not as valuable as someone else.
Friend, you should be telling yourself that in Christ you are beloved (Col. 3:12), beautiful (Psalm 149:4), chosen (Eph 1:4), forgiven (Psalm 103:3), gifted (2 Tim. 1:6)!
And do the same for others. Cultivate sympathy instead of criticism. Don’t curse the person going slow in front of you. Don’t say nasty things under your breath as you walk away from a family member. Don’t sit in smug judgement as someone is getting what you think they deserve. Don’t wish destruction on others.
God taught me the hard way about gossip, so I keep my lips sealed nowadays. I thought I had that nipped in the bud until he showed me that I still think the same things, I’m just not saying them. It’s still damaging and not ok.
There is an alternative. You can pray for those who have hurt, irritated and offended you! I know that’s counterintuitive, but it works to change something into a positive in your own heart and it works to fight evil in the spiritual realm.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. — 2 Corinthians 10:5
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. — Philippians 4:8
Fill in the blank: I cannot be happy until ___________ happens.
What was your answer?
A giant house will not give you joy. The perfect spouse will not give you joy. High achieving, perfectly-dressed, well-mannered children will not give you joy. Rising fame and career success will not give you the ever-lasting, soul-satisfying joy you are looking for. These are good things, but they do not satisfy. We will always want more. The grass can never be green enough.
I live in a city with incredible wealth. There are yachts, Lamborghinis, oceanfront homes selling for hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not crazy to see a Bentley parked outside the hardware store. I’m not kidding. I’m from a small town in Indiana, and these things are not normal there! But when I moved here I quickly observed that money truly cannot buy happiness. So many of these uber wealthy are miserable! We commoners find ourselves saying to each other “Why are they so angry?! They have everything!”
But clearly having everything doesn’t bring real joy. King Solomon was one of the most wealthy men to ever live. He had success in abundance by this world’s standards — wealth, fame, power, women. He had gold everything, palaces, servants, treasures from afar, the best wine, best entertainment, best everything. He was a billionaire before there were billionaires. Yet all of these things left him empty.
“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 2:11
King Solomon was gifted with wisdom by the Lord. He warns us that our bodies and our things will return to dust, but our spirit will return to God, who gave it to us. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
Focus on what you have been given, and be grateful for it, instead of looking for what you don’t have. Spend your energy on the relationship you will have forever with God, not the things of the temporary.
Pity party of one
Do you think that everyone is having their best summer ever and you’re the only one out of energy, out of ideas or without money? (You’re not! I am too, by the way.) Do you feel sorry for yourself that you are the only one in the family doing the work? Do you need consistent praise and affirmation from others to be happy?
Self pity has never and will never help you in any way. Just stop it and stop it now. It can ruin relationships and can even be a form of entitled self worship.
I heard an excellent analogy by Paul Tripp comparing kindergartners to adults. He spoke of kindergarten birthday party in the classroom. The birthday boy had many presents and the other students had party favors. One child was upset about it. A mother bent down and whispered what we’ve all said before: “It’s not your birthday.”
It’s not our birthday. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. If we keep living our lives for ourselves and our own desires, whims or what we seem to think we deserve, we won’t find joy. That empty hole we think praise or things or drugs or facebook likes will alleviate, can only be fulfilled by God. It cannot be filled by more self focus, self care or self importance.
If social media leaves you dripping with envy, take a break from it! When we first moved I was too busy for social media or tv. The result was freeing! I looked in the mirror less, didn’t feel the need to buy more things and enjoyed the simple beauties of nature more. It’s good to have a break!
Addiction and idols
What are you addicted to? Is there something you sometimes hide? We’re all addicted to something. We all have our own crutches we turn to in time of trouble.
Jesus + _______ = joy. This equation doesn’t work. But, what would you put in that blank? Be honest.
Jesus = joy!
Some addictions are gray areas — alcohol, shopping, tv, eating, video games, exercise, work, social media. If you’re having trouble with moderation, give it up for seven days.
Some of them are not gray areas, they are wrong —pornography, intoxication, lying, theft, adultery, greed, even worry.
The most common idol today is probably self. We make ourselves idols — our wants, our feelings, our image, our thoughts are most important. Self focus is not what the Bible teaches though. Jesus taught us through his actions and words that we are to serve others, to think of others above ourselves. And clearly self idolization is not working. Otherwise we’d all be super happy!
It’s hard to experience joy if you are enslaved to something. It’s hard to experience joy when you’ve given Satan some ground in your life. He will lie all day long about how you’ve got it under control, one time can’t be that bad or that it doesn’t hurt anyone. It does though — most of all, you. “Give Satan a stick and he’ll beat you over the head with it,” Tony Evans says.
We were made to worship. We were made to worship God.
♥ ♥ ♥ If addiction has taken over your life, there is help for you. You do not have to live in shame and secrets. Remaining in silence and quiet torture is the worst thing you can do. (And chances are you’re not hiding it as well as you think you are.) There is love and understanding for you. Call SAMHSA at 1-800-487-4889 any time, day or night. ♥ ♥ ♥
Look for the lesson
In times of sorrow or stress, I try not to ask why, but I do want to know what I can learn through it. God wastes nothing. Maybe you need to hear that again, God wastes nothing. And He alone can bring good from bad.
In times of frustration, loss and despair, God is calling you closer. He wants you to come to Him. He wants to use this to strengthen your relationship with Him, build your faith and refine your character. So listen. Don’t fight it. What is He saying?
He’s not hiding from you.
In my toughest times it can be just a word. A word that seems to appear everywhere — in a song, in a verse, something a friend says, in a sermon, on the radio, in a book … It could be kindness (that one rocked my world), self-control (that one about killed me), in this case for me it has been joy.
Part of the lesson is learning to submit yourself to him. Lower your pride and humble yourself before him.
Earlier this year I told a spiritually mature friend that I was very stressed about a circumstance. “Just stop it,” she said, “It will just take longer.” Haha! I knew exactly what she meant. It has happened to me so many times. I stress and over analyze and try everything in my power to control things, but the issue seems to go on and on. When I finally submit, give it God and let Jesus intervene for me, it’s over.
In February we made an offer on our current house and the waiting was killing me! I could hardly function it was so overwhelming to me. Finally, I sat at the kitchen bar and told Marcello that I was done. God was in control, I didn’t want control. I wanted him to decide if we moved, and if he decided against it, then it would be in our best interest. “I submit!” I said aloud. Less than two minutes later we got a text that the offer was approved and no counter offer. It’s like God was waiting for me to just stop it already!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. — Proverbs 3:5-6
So while we’re pushing away our negative thinking, pity parties and idols, we can focus on getting to the good stuff. We’re on our way to soul-satisfying joy.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I want to be nearer to God, is to repent — to ask for forgiveness for sin and turn from it. There is no formula to prayer, but I tend to start mine off with listing my known offenses and asking forgiveness. I also ask God to reveal the sin I don’t even know is there. I imagine myself now washed clean as snow in the presence of the Lord and thank Jesus for this unfathomable gift.
Sin is a dishonor to God, a debt that has been paid by Jesus. “But for us to enjoy that gift, he says we must repent,” John Piper says.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. — Acts 2:38
Prayer is the biggest game changer there is. Prayer is the answer for everything. Prayer has turned my saddened heart to a grateful one.
Prayer is the channel between you and Heaven. If we want to experience joy through the Father, we have to spend time with Him. Like I said, there is no right or wrong way to pray, but if you don’t know how to pray or feel uncomfortable, here is an acronym that might help. ACTS: Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication (requests).
When I am looking for joy in time of trouble, I pray specifically for three things.
• I pray for a renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2), that God would change my heart to align with His.
• I give thanks. I name all the things He has given me, big and small.
• I pray for a new mercy from Him in that day. He has never failed me on this request. Not once.
Let me explain what I mean by a new mercy. One frustrating morning before church (why is it always chaotic on Sunday mornings?!), Luca asked me if I was ok. I told him I was going to go to church, sing songs about Jesus and he would give me a new spirit. Don’t you know they played my most adored hymn, “Come Thou Fount.” Oh, the tears. He loves us so much. He gave me the song, he gave me a new spirit.
Another mercy was last weekend when the kids played nicely inside and Marcello and I sat by the pool for an entire hour by ourselves! We needed that break just at that time and it set a new attitude for the rest of the day! Look for the new mercies He offers that come right in the moment when you can’t take anymore.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:2
Start a grateful journal.
A grateful heart is a happy heart. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it a million times, you cannot think of something bad and something good at the same time. When you are giving thanks to the Lord, you redirect the focus from the negative to the positive. That physiologically releases hormones that make you happy!
I learned in Priscilla Shirer’s study “Armor of God” that the brain has “the ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.” It’s called neuroplasticity and this means that our positive or negative thoughts can actually change the shape of our brains! (To read more look up Dr. Caroline Leaf.)
Thoughts are powerful. A positive thought can lead to another positive thought. You have to train yourself in this way. A negative thought process in the midst of a depression or trial is a dangerous place to be. A grateful soul can guard your heart against lies, jealousy and deception.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. — James 1:17
Remember when I said it’s not your birthday and that self pity guides you down treacherous paths?
Loving others is like loving Jesus himself.
Jesus said our greatest commandments are to love our God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22). When we love others, Jesus said we are loving him and he will reveal himself to us (John 14:21). When we move toward others, he moves toward us.
I have had the time of my life in the last year and a half doing random acts of kindness, offering friendly smiles and small gifts. It’s like a secret source of joy most people don’t know about! In our human way, we believe that focusing more on ourselves will satisfy our desire for love and happiness, but it does not and cannot!
Kindness is rare. It takes people by surprise! At first they’re not sure what to think. What do you want? But when they see you only want to see them smile and show them the love you’ve been given, get ready for a lottery-winning smile. Get ready for heart-warmed smiles from those who stand as witness. Get ready for an unexpected joy to bubble up in your own heart and a tear in your eye. Because giving truly is better than receiving.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. — Hebrews 6:10
Joy is a gift.
Joy is not something that can be conjured by one’s self, it can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. “As we live in obedience to God’s commands, the fruit grows and develops in our lives,” the Quest Study Bible says.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control … — Galations 6:22
Joy is a command.
It is a gift and it is also a command. There are over 30 verses that tell us to rejoice! How sweet and loving that it His will for us is to be joyful. And he promises to equip us to do his will. (Hebrews 13:21)
To put it plainly, we are in his will when we pray for joy, and when we pray within his will, the answer is always affirmative! (1 John 5:14–15)
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart! — Psalm 32:11
Joy is a choice.
In our late 20s, Marcello and I finally finished paying off our credit card debt. Our goal was to save for a house downpayment, but we could never get ahead. Something always came up. We would save $300 and the car would break down. I would get a $200 check for freelance work, but then had to make an unexpected doctor’s appointment.
There are two ways to look at this common scenario:
- We will never get ahead! God, don’t you care about our future?
- Thank you for providing for us, Lord! You love us so much that you sent us the money we needed in advance.
Choose it! Admire the beauty in God’s creation. Look for the positive in every situation. See the good in people.
Admire a cotton candy sunset. Smile at the light of the sun warming your skin. Treasure the laughter of children. Enjoy each bite of savory dinner that you have been given to eat. This earth is a shadow of what it was intended to be, but there are still shimmers from Heaven poking through.
There are things to rejoice in! God would rather show us mercy than judge us. We are promised that we are never alone and will never be forsaken. Jesus is still on the throne reigning. And we’re promised that one day he’s coming back for us, to take us to be with him forever. For these things I will rejoice. For these things I choose joy.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13
New favorite song!
King and Country’s new single “joy.” is awesome. Try not to dance. I dare you.
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