Does joy look different in each of us?

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For the joy of the Lord is your strength Neh 8:10

I desire joy and you probably do as well.   But, do you or I always know it when we see it?  Can we recognize joy in another Christian?

For sure, there are those fellow believers who seem to bubble over with a happy passion for Jesus. We recognize that as ‘the joy of the Lord’.

My husband, Michael, prays daily for that kind of joy.  He really wants it, but seems burdened by the belief he bears that he is not anywhere NEAR feeling or displaying that kind of visible, expressive contentment in the Lord.

But is he making a fair self-assessment? I wonder if we do ourselves harm and cause a disservice to fellow believers when we narrowly define the expression of joy, when we expect a joy-filled Christian to look and act a certain way.

This morning I read a definition of JOY in a Tabletalk article. The following two sentences brought relief:

  • “Joy is an apprehension of our great God. It is a realization of and a trust in His promises.” (Rev Kevin D. Gardner)

Oh!  So, joy doesn’t HAVE to look like that constant jovial, spilling over, unrestrained child-like delight that I imagine in ‘real’ Christians?  Is it possible that we’re not ‘less’ of a Christian if our sense of and expression of joy is different?

Here is what I think happens. God has wired each of us, his image-bearers, as one-of-a-kind individuals, assigning us temperaments per his wisdom. Could we be incorrect in assuming that OUR particular experiences of God will be or should be the same for each believer?   Could we be burdening brothers and sisters when we describe AND prescribe God’s way of relating to us as normative?

I don’t doubt that you have people in your life who admire you for something, who look to you as a role-model.  By observing you in person, they have bestowed upon you a degree of power to speak into their lives.  You might not even know them.  They may in fact be social media followers who respect you from a distance and want to be more like you.  That is a weighty responsibility, my friend.

I have accorded others that kind of influence over my life.  And it has not always been good for me.  At my very weakest moments when I have measured myself against that ‘Admired One’ and come up short, the self-flagellation has been toxic to my soul and well-being.

In the past, my insecurities as a mom left me ‘that kind of’ vulnerable.  These days, my self-generated critical tapes can play over and over about how I grandparent and how I ‘ezer’ or help my husband. Those times of self-doubt tempt me to look at other older women and draw incorrect conclusions about them.

The result?  I feel bad about myself and think….”I gotta do something different.”  That thought alone feels like pressure and I grow anxious.

Now isn’t ‘anxiety’ another word for ‘discontent’!

Is that what God wants for us, his beloved children?  Does our Father mean for our sense of falling short (of the kind of joy my fellow believing brother or sister displays) to cause doubt about his love for us?  Does he want us fearful that we might not be a Christian?

No!  I don’t think so.

Brothers and sisters, be gentle with yourself.  I believe that joy as a trait or marker of believers comes to fruition by the operative power of Jesus’ Spirit implanted in us at our RE-birth.  Believing, trusting, taking as TRUE all of God’s words in Scripture is what nurtures and grows the kind of joy Jesus had. Jesus loved his flock, his posse of friends and supporters.  But he was a serious Man, the God-Man who suffered in a real body.  I don’t get the picture from Scripture that he was the bubbly type, but the always trusting type, the God-Man who believed his Father.

Brothers and sisters, be wary of describing and prescribing YOUR experience of God’s joy (or forgiveness, peace, guidance, love, mercy etc) as the only fitting expression and communication of God’s goodness.  Yes, be real and share about God and his goodness in your life. But be responsible and wise with your words. Remember those weaker and younger in the faith and be aware of your impact on them. As for me, I don’t assume that everyone enjoys or experiences God the way I do. I am analytical and feel fed through reading and studying and meditating on true ideas about God.  Others feed on God through music or nature or movement.  Our God loves diversity!

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1 Cor 12: 4-7

PS: As I was editing this post, I decided to see if I could find out what kind of ‘of’ is meant in the phrase, “The joy of the LORD”.  Does ‘of’ mean FROM, or PART OF or……?  I googled it and found this helpful blog post that shifted my understanding of the verse in Nehemiah.  Please invest the time to read it.

Confessions and consolations of a jaded Christmas spirit

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Ravi Zacharias describes bedtime stories he would recount when his three children were little.

Bedtime story

All it took was one line, to fire up his youngest –

“There once was a monster!”   That proclamation was enough to send 3-year-old Nathan into the sweetest of shivers of fear and excitement.

Naomi, a bit older, needed more than the existence of a monster to get her going. But Daddy whispering, “The monster snuck up the stairs” produced the same goose bumps.

Finally, oldest child Sarah, a bit blasé about monster stories in general, kept her cool until Daddy inserted the extra detail “This particular monster loved snacking on little girls with braids!”

As we age, it takes more to satisfy us. Most of us can anecdotally attest to this truth when we think about how excited we were as children about upcoming events. The thought of trick-or-treating in costume or an annual trip to the beach brought great anticipation. But by the time we were 14, these annual events might have begun to lose the allure they once held.

Here we are, so quickly it seems, Christmas week! Where is that same anticipation we once had as five-year-olds? The long wait was both a source of impatience AND way to infuse the whole festive time with a holy wonder. Although I can ‘taste’ the long-ago anticipation in my mind, I can honestly say that it’s been decades since I felt those same thrills about anything.

But there have been touch-points of renewed excitement, first as newlyweds, then again as parents with little ones. The novelty of celebrating such a meaning-laden holiday, or travel to Europe under vastly different circumstances did reappear, because they were now shared experiences.

Now as I approach 60, I have (by God’s grace) celebrated Christ’s birth many times. A fellow Christian and I were talking about the diminishment of pleasures the other day. It had been a trying day for him, with a bitter work-related disappointment, and I’m sure that didn’t help his mood. For better or worse, moods are often the context or window through which we evaluate life. He commented how even the approach of Christmas didn’t fill him with much joy or anticipation. I responded that maybe this was God’s way of detaching us from the things of this world. That maybe God was maturing us to appreciate a richer type of true pleasure.

Bored (gargoyle)

People in their 40s and older often succumb to mid-life blues, “Is this all there is?” They draw despondent conclusions from the fact that what used to thrill them no longer does.

But those conclusions are wrong, for the Christian!

And that thought was bolstered by what I read before bed. The author, Thomas Brewer who manages Tabletalk Magazine, reminded believers of ‘the fullness of joy’ that awaits us:

God paints the future reality of ‘fullness of joy’ we will experience in the everlasting kingdom of God.

Psalm 16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Hebrew word for fullness is ‘soba’ and it means satiety. (Think of our word ‘satis-fied’.) On page 61 of the November 2014 magazine Brewer recalls Paul’s teaching that this life’s present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to what God is going to reveal to us, glories that we cannot even begin to picture. Brewer goes on to write,

  • “In other words, this life is just the beginning. There are joys we haven’t yet experienced – a new life awaits that can’t even be compared to this one.”

How encouraging! So there’s nothing wrong with us! When what used to thrill us no longer does, or at least not to the same degree, we draw a different conclusion. This lessening of earthly pleasures is part of the normal course of God’s providential plan for humans. And in fact, maybe there is something faulty with our theology if we cling TOO tightly to this world. Yes, our family is precious to us and nature still has the power to render us speechless with awe.

As Brewer concludes his essay, he reminds Christians that, “…this life is merely the childhood of our eternal happiness. We wait to enter the gates of that eternal city, where we will enter into the joy of our Master (Matt 25:21)”

So embrace Christmas. But don’t measure today against previous celebrations or what you think you SHOULD feel. Thank God for all his good pleasures and above all for the promise of everlasting life in his presence. Rest in the comforting fact that ‘The best is yet to be!’

 

 

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