Misplaced Joy

MISPLACED JOY

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months or even years when you feel like you’ve misplaced joy? No matter how hard you try to find it, to conjure up a smile and ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, happy moments pop up now and again but joy never appears to transpire. Circumstances don’t always dictate this joy dilemma, people can face the worst of seasons and still manage to retain an inner peace and positive outlook. Others whose life bears the appearance of outward success find that contentment remains elusive. Even I, as a Christian who believes with every fibre of my being in the goodness and power of God, have had seasons of scrambling around in the dark wondering where I’ve mislaid it. Such times can leave us dumbfounded, confused and weak as our downward spiralling feelings begin to inform our decisions rather than our beliefs.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an enemy whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10 v 10). Nehemiah 8 v 10 informs us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so it makes strategic sense that he would target our joy as part of his battle plan. So how do we counter his attack and take care not to leave ourselves vulnerable? How can we hold onto joy when dark clouds hover over the horizon. “In order to have joy, you have to sow joy” is a statement I heard recently during a preach. Easy right? Of course, we reap what we sow, it’s a foundational law of nature, I can’t plant an apple seed and expect to grow an oak tree. Yet despite this simple anecdote I couldn’t help but wonder why if it’s really that obvious, do so many of us regularly find ourselves lacking in real joy? Why is joy something we experience sporadically rather than consistently? More importantly, how do we actually sow joy? How is it that Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that he’s found the secret to being content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4 v 12) Paul could easily be forgiven for misplacing his joy given the many life-threatening experiences, beatings and imprisonments he encountered during his life. Yet despite all of these he closes his revelation in verse 13 with, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” So God is the source of Paul’s joy and strength, but what does enabling this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22 – 23) to manifest in our lives actually look like practically on a day to day basis?

Interestingly I have been reading Dare To Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book which is a compilation of her findings from over 20 years of leadership research. Whilst detailing the differences between what she describes as armoured leadership and daring leadership, joy is listed as a key attribute of the latter. Here’s what she discovered,

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members.” 

Dare To Lead, Brené Brown

According to Brené’s research, joy is manifested by gratefulness. As this truth leapt off the page and induced a ‘light-bulb’ moment, I was eager to look up all the verses I could pertaining to joy. As I circled back to Paul’s words in Philippians 4 and read the verses preceding his statement of contentment, I came face to face with one of the most well-known scriptures that I’ve no doubt read and indeed journaled many times over the years,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 8 (NIV, emphasis added by me)

Right there in the midst of Paul’s ancient encouragement to the Philippian church, he instructs them to always present all requests in every situation to God with thanksgiving. In other words to practise gratitude in our daily encounter and conversation with God.

Here are three quick practical tools we can take from Philippians 4 to help restore and maintain our joy:

  • Rejoice in the Lord – Or delight in the Lord. Whatever life throws at us we can always find something to be truly grateful for in Christ.
  • Give Thanks In Every Situation – Why? Because when we pray, speak, think, write and act from a place of thanksgiving our requests, thoughts, petitions, prayers and actions become focused on His goodness rather than our lack.
  • Think on Good Things – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23 v 7 (NKJV) As we train our thoughts to think on good things, they become our beliefs which in turn dictate our actions. 

Joy doesn’t negate difficult circumstances and it doesn’t require us to pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. Rather it forces our eyes heavenwards and makes way for the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.

Each morning Rich and I have started to text each other at least 3 things that we are thankful for. Taking the time to stop and think about what we are grateful for each morning determines our position and perspective for the rest of the day. What will you do to practise joy today?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)

Radio Silence

RADIO SILENCE

Radio Silence –  “A period during which one hears nothing from a normally communicative person or group” (definition found via Google)

There’s an attack on our senses in modern western society with so many media vying for our attention 24/7. A world of organised chaos ready to sell us the latest products or opinion as they lure us in with well-executed campaigns. We don’t even have to leave our beds to be up to date with the latest trends and information, we just check our smartphones. It can be difficult to find quiet amidst the noise. This noise on the outside can often perpetuate a noise on the inside as we find it increasingly difficult to switch off our over-thinking, over-planning brains. We become quickly frustrated if we wait longer than a minute for anything, a coffee, wifi, phone signal, a text message. We import and export food and goods so that we can enjoy them all year round as it would be unthinkable to only have access to them once a year. Online shopping and next day delivery add to the message of instant gratification.

It’s easy to let our present culture dictate our view of God and our relationship with Him. We can rapidly become frustrated at an apparent lack of haste in His dealings with us. Have you ever been waiting for an answer to prayer or hoping for an open door only to feel like God seems to be transmitting nothing but radio silence? To counter our impatience we keep going, we build anyway, strive anyway. We create events and empires, products and programmes, always looking for the increase as we perpetually tick off our weekly and yearly to-do lists as we navigate our increasingly full calendars. We figure we haven’t heard anything contrary to what we’re doing so we’ll just keep going at an accelerating rate, according to whichever voice, trend or structure we are currently following. We struggle to carve out meaningful time to sit, listen, pray and worship outside of our Sunday experience as we assume that stillness and silence mean wasted time. We want drive-through healing, provision and relationship, “I’m just stopping by, but you know I love you right?” If we have to pray and wait for anything longer than a week, we give up the fight and get back to doing. Desperate to keep up with the fast-moving world around us we become frustrated at having to delay what we believe will satisfy us. If we could just do this, see that, be there or achieve that by yesterday we’d be happier, more fulfilled, full of a sense of purpose. We’re constantly looking for new ideas and innovation, never letting anything take root long enough to have a significant impact and see if it actually works. We think a year is a long time and if we haven’t seen our preferred results by then, everything must change.

I’m not an enemy of progress and I enjoy many of the benefits of the forward-thinking culture we live in. I’m also a big believer in getting on with things. We don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction that we never do anything because we believe waiting for God to speak is passive. No, Psalm 37 v 23 remind us, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:” This infers movement on our part. I’m also an advocate for necessary change which enables us to grow individually and corporately. Change for the right reasons is good. Change that benefits our lives, our communities and the world around us is needed. I just wonder if we pause long enough to check that we’re still tuned into the right wavelength so that our steps can be ordered correctly. So that the change we seek is built on well-thought-out, prepared plans that have been carefully considered and founded on the right principles. Change for change’s sake is exhausting.

What if the radio silence we felt was distancing us from God wasn’t actually silence at all? Rather somewhere along the journey, an interference with the signal occurred and He’s waiting for us to take the time to tune back into the correct channel. What if we are moving too fast to notice the white noise ringing all around us? What if God is transmitting but our spiritual antennae aren’t correctly positioned to receive what He’s putting out?

If we ‘do’ more than we pray, there’s an issue. In our jobs, we regularly connect with our boss to ensure that our work is on track. We have weekly meetings with colleagues to give updates and check workflow. We regularly converse with spouses, friends and family to make sure our schedules for the week allow space for meaningful encounters. How much more then do we need to connect with God to ensure that we’re correctly aligned with His vision and will? To check that the right things are important to us, that His desires are our desires. That we are loving Him and others correctly. That we’re not moving on until we’ve healed, not changing direction until He says so.

We need to make sure we’re defining culture and not chasing it, always struggling to catch up. We can utilise the good without succumbing to the bad. Sometimes it requires the courage to be misunderstood to make the right kind of changes. To pioneer, we have to do something never done before, not add on to what’s keeping us on the treadmill of misguided success. We need, and the world needs us to stop, tune in and check the transmission. Often. In fact, this more than anything else needs to be the top priority of our weekly agendas.

Despite the fact that we’ve never been more enlightened, had more tools and opportunities to succeed with plentiful available resources, figures show that anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise with not much difference between those inside and outside the Church. This is sad. Our perpetual want for more stops us from failing to see, feel, talk with, linger a while with an amazing Saviour who can lead us on our daily salvation journey.

I don’t know who needs to hear this today but if it resonates with you, please stop, talk to someone, tune in and drown out all external noise so that you can focus in on the one voice that matters.