Honestly, without joy, life isn’t worth living.
In 2011 when I came home from my first exploit with YWAM, I found it quite hard returning to “normal” life. Work, traffic, familiar faces. Familiar headaches. My life felt dry, whereas in YWAM, new faces, new adventures and new experiences kept me stimulated.
But all the newness and excitement of YWAM just covered up what my soul’s state was really in: dry, thirsty, lifeless. Don’t give me wrong, God called me to YWAM and I grew so much through it. But though I knew Jesus, and He was living in me, I still had yet to really tap into that water source He provides, that well inside each believer that when tapped, releases life abundance from within.
Last year when I returned to Sydney to staff the YWAM base, I remember reading 1 Thess 5:19 that says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” This is right after the command to give thanks in all circumstances. I realized that a grateful heart is what leads to a Spirit-filled life, which brings joy. I prayed, “God, give me a grateful heart.” I prayed that several times throughout the year.
When I was in Tahiti at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, I came face to face with the dryness of my soul. It was an amazing trip no doubt, but it was also the most challenging. I finally acknowledged my need for God in finding joy. When I made my decision to go home, I knew God was inviting me not only to new surroundings, but to discover joy.
Upon coming home in February 2013, my sister, being the ever-encouraging voice that she is, suggested we read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts.
I have so much to owe to this author. I’ve read a lot of books, but I can say this one, in terms of the most impacting, is in the top five.
In her book, Voskamp describes the drag of life weighing down on her soul. She had been blessed with six healthy children and a good husband. But like most people, it’s hard to relish in that blessing in the midst of endless chores and mundane routine.
From reading Voskamp’s book, I realized my problem, which is probably common to most of us, was pride.
I had expectations of what “should” be, and when they were not met, I could not find joy. I would sulk and complain to God. In fact, “complaining” is the outward evidence of a heart not trusting in God, which blocks the flow of joy and life. It’s what pride is, not trusting God.
Lamenting is different. God wants us to cry out to Him in our distress, but trusting Him that He will come through for us. He knows that when we trust, we are filled with joy, hope and peace. Trust is the distinguishing factor between complaint and lament.
Voskamp discovered that gratitude, along with trusting God in each moment, is essential in finding joy. This reminded me of the discovery I made last year in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. Gratitude releases the joy of the Spirit, while ungratefulness quenches it.
But I knew that even with the moment by moment practice of gratitude and trust, in the beginning, I wouldn’t necessarily feel joy. I just had to trust God that gratefulness and trust was His way, and only way, of finding joy.
So for the past few months since I’ve been home, I started to practice gratitude. I thanked God in each moment, in each circumstance, especially the hard ones. Like when my car broke down at the gas station after a long, terrible day of work: Thank you God that I’m safe and You are with me.
Or worse, when I’m experiencing a moment of complete boredom and all this fear rushes into my life whispering thoughts like, You are wasting your life right now. Instead, I choose to trust God and say, Thank you God that you are in control of my life and I have nothing to fear. I trust you in this moment. I thank you that you have a marvelous plan for me and that Your love is with me in this moment.
Trust and gratitude then. Trust and gratitude.
Trust that God is in control and that He loves me ridiculously and doesn’t miss out on a single detail of my life. Gratitude for every small thing in every small moment of life that He gives.
Sometimes, I would catch myself looking forward. I’m looking forward to dinner. I’m looking forward to when work is over and I can go home and rest. I’m looking forward to when I finally start my big career and/or ministry. But I realized these devilish, forward-looking thoughts were stealing my joy.
Instead of forward, God just wants me to look up toward Him, in grateful praise and in communion.
Rejoice always;pray without ceasing;in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thess 5:16-18
If someone had told me just earlier this year while I was in Tahiti that this was the answer to joy, I would have scoffed and rejected it. Really? Praise and constant prayer is the secret to joy? Get away from me. It’s that nasty pride in me that doesn’t want to accept God’s solution.
If we’re always looking forward to something in life that we think will bring us joy, whether in the short term future (like, later that day) or longer term, we are living in a state of unbelief, which steals our joy. God wants to give us good things, but He just wants us to look up toward him, with our hands cupped open (see image above) ready to receive anything that He wants to bless us with, not with what we want.
Joy is not found in anything external: money, people, achievements, marriage etc. It is all internal. Jesus alludes to this fact when he interacts with the Samaritan woman.
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again ; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst ; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
Jesus promises that we will thirst again if we look for our joy from anywhere but from Him alone. No one or nothing else can give us joy. Jesus is saying that it’s impossible. He is saying that our joy is our own business with Him.
Just last night, which inspired me to write this post, I was at home and had these thoughts that had been normal to my life whisper: You are wasting your life. You are unhappy.
But I caught myself. Immediately, my next thought was: wait, no. Actually, I’m joyful. And it wasn’t a statement of faith I was making to battle negative thoughts or anything like that. It was just what I truly felt inside. And I laughed out loud! I was literally surprised by my joy. Oh my gosh, I’m truly joyful. I have found it. I am finding it. I will be finding it. Forever. In and with Jesus.
My moment by moment practice of gratitude and trust is paying off. I’m actually now beginning to feel joy. But it’s not a human emotion. It’s in my spirit, something you just have to experience for yourself.
The hymn has been playing over and over in my head for the past week:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Those negative thoughts that have led me to believe something is wrong with my life (or with the present moment, or with me) can no longer phase me. His grace has set me free to trust in Him. He’s answered my earnest prayers for a grateful heart. He’s led me with “cords of human kindness” in this journey for joy.