What is it? Where does it come from? How do we live as people of joy?
The season of Christmas is a sparkly, twinkly time. Music playing, warmth thawing cold hearts, children babbling in happy anticipation. The wonder of it all lends itself to feelings of joy.
But perhaps at moments you feel a bit humbuggy. Or maybe, like me, you feel a wistfulness, knowing joy will evaporate with the season. When it’s all over will our hearts just bear the burden of life for the rest of the year? When the cookies are eaten and the presents used up or forgotten will the joy still linger or will it be packed away with the ornaments?
A year ago last month my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and yet the past year has held a great deal of joy for our family. She has lived not as someone grieving but celebrating. How is that possible?
I’ve been asking myself these questions recently and, through prayer and God’s word, I’ve found what I believe are four keys to a joyful heart. Over the next four weeks I’d like to unpack them with you, savoring together one of the rich gifts God has for us – his joy!
I think it’s safe to say we would all prefer to live with joy bubbling up from our hearts rather than walking through Eeyore days. Not a holiday induced joy, but a real enduring joy. I know I would. And Galatians 5 tells us that joy is one of the hallmarks of a life lived in step with the Holy Spirit, joy should be the norm for us. So how do we live with joy?
Perhaps it sounds simple but it’s important to understand that God is the only true source of joy, everything else is just circumstances.
The first key to joy:
Recognize that living in God’s presence and under his authority brings joy. Like serfs centuries ago lived on a lord’s land, took shelter in his castle, protected by his army, we live under the lordship of God.
Psalm 5:11 says, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.”
The words to my favorite Christmas song say “We could never get back home with broken hearts, so home has come to meet us where we are.” (Check out Josh Wilson’s song “Sing” here.)
It’s the mystery of Emmanuel. We were far from God and he drew near, moved in with us. Lonely people have a companion, vulnerable people have a refuge. God’s very presence with us brings joy.
Is cancer stalking you, is money tight, have people slandered your reputation, is temptation overwhelming you, are your children rebelling, have you lost a loved one, do you just feel tired?
Take refuge in God. His Spirit is available to guide and comfort. His power sustains. His heart is your home and he will spread his protection over your life. Delight in his name. His name that represents his character.
When eyes are lifted off of circumstances and rest on the power of the one true God who is fighting for you, that’s where joy comes from. Living in the shelter of God’s heart doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, the cancer will be cured, or we’ll have plenty of money. But it does mean that we’ll have what our hearts long for, a home, God with us. We’ll know that even if it doesn’t look like it from our human vantage point we can be sure God is working good in our lives from an eternal perspective. A heart that trusts is joyful in whatever it receives.
Is your heart joyful?
Has life taken the wind out of your sails? Do you find yourself more suspicious of, than trusting in, God? Joy doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve loss or fear danger. It means that we don’t dwell on the reality of our circumstances, we dwell on the provision of God. Spend some time in his word. Get to know his heart better. Ask him to increase your capacity for and understanding of joy.
The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7
God wants you to know you can trust him, to have faith that he is a good father who gives good gifts. When we do begin to trust that God is with us, helping us, believing he’s our refuge, our hearts will be filled with joy, and so will his!
Take it to heart
Take some time this week to meditate on Psalm 5. Where does the Psalmist go for comfort and answers? Is his life easy? What happens to those who don’t trust God? Why is the Psalmist able to enter God’s presence? After crying out to God and worshiping in his presence what happens in the Psalmist’s heart?
Let’s ask God to give us hearts of joy:
Father listen to us as we pray. We ask you to lead us, protect us, shelter us in this life full of challenges. You know what we face and how our hearts sometimes faint in the face of difficulty. In the midst of it all we chose to come into your presence, to live in your refuge of mercy, because we know it’s where our hearts belong. Spread your protection over us and fill our hearts with joy as we delight in your name. You’re the one we love. As we turn our eyes from our problems and spend time focused on your kind nature may our hearts overflow with a song of rejoicing. Amen.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope your heart will drink deeply of God’s presence and gift of joy this season. And if you know someone who is looking for joy share this series with them, the more the merrier!