Where have our joy gone?
We are emotional beings. God made us that way. That is why we are so easily influenced emotionally by our circumstances. It is difficult for me to be joyful when someone close to me is in pain.
I can’t laugh when I know my friend is hurting. I feel depressed when my cash flow looks bad. I struggle to go to work cheerfully if my employer or one of my colleagues constantly try to trip me up. I’m human and in a way I can’t be glad when negative things come knocking at my door.
When dark clouds appear so often on the horizon, what do you do with this scripture? 16Be cheerful no matter what …
This phrase actually needs no more clarification to make you understand it. Any first grader will be able to tell you what it means. You must be cheerful. Joy must flow from you. You must be excited. You must long to rush out of the door to grab life by the horns. With a vuvuzela in one hand and your arm around your best pal, as you wait in anticipation to see what is going to happen.
But let’s come back down to earth for just a moment, because we certainly know this is not what it’s like every day. The reality of the life I live every day is more about joy being stolen than shared. Look around you, look at yourself. We can write books about joy thieves. You and I can write a story about joy disappearing out the door nearly every day.
Friends of ours locked up their house to go and do missionary work in Jakarta for three months. They are obedient children of the Lord and I know they work extremely hard to grow the Kingdom. But I know them and I know that the truck of cheer sometimes passes them by too. Even there where they sacrifice everything in working for our Father.
How does this work? Is Paul being too idealistic? Was he not thinking right when he wrote this sentence? Did he forget about reality for a moment? Or was he simply a better Christian than the rest of us?
No, I actually think Paul quite often had to face the thieves of joy. He was persecuted many, many times. He was imprisoned on a regular basis. Paul was familiar with dark clouds and storm winds, but still he said: Be cheerful!
His secret is found in verse 18: … thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.
We shouldn’t allow the events of the moment determine our joy. We should rather take our joy from what Jesus Christ has done for us.
To put it differently: What Jesus did for me on the cross must fill me with so much joy that whatever happens will not get me down. This doesn’t mean that reality is pushed under the table and ignored. No, indeed, amidst life’s cheerlessness I can still be cheerful, because it doesn’t obliterate Jesus’ death on the cross, which is the source of all my joy. I am cheerful. I overflow with joy about what Jesus has done for me.
Still, this “command”, to be filled with joy through thick and thin, is not so easy. We are only human. But maybe we are too much like little babies that are easily influenced by their environment. Maybe we are still too immature to prevent our joy form being easily stolen. Maybe it is because we do not talk to God enough. Maybe it is because we do not believe enough. Maybe it is because we have experienced that God doesn’t actually hear.
Maybe we should indeed become and believe like a little child again. Maybe we should listen and obey when Paul says in verse 17: … pray all the time …
Let’s do it!
What steals your joy?
What can you be grateful for?
What can you do to put some of your gratitude into action?
Father, so often I become depressed because my joy is stolen. I know I do not talk to You enough. I know I’m not grateful enough for everything You give to me. I long for your peace with my whole being. Amen.