“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” – Psalm 126:3
Over the past year, life has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. My oldest son got married a little over a year ago, and his brother is now halfway through college. My oldest daughter recently graduated from college, got married, and moved to another state. At the same time, her sister finished high school, moved out, and began her first year of college. After 25 years of nurturing four of the most precious people on the planet, I was facing an emptier nest. (It’s not quite empty yet, but I clearly see it coming!)
Empty. I don’t like that word.
I needed a different word for this season, a word of encouragement to endure this transition. Just one word, God! I believe He began whispering in my heart one simple word – Joy. This was later reinforced by three different people in three different ways. (It’s wild how God confirms ideas that He sends us, isn’t it?)
Facing a looming empty nest is the season I’m challenged with, but what about you? Whether you are planting a church or you have a newborn that just won’t sleep through the night (or both…at the same time!), you may find yourself in a season of challenge that can feel overwhelming at times. Maybe your daughter is dealing with relationship difficulties at school, or you have an aging parent who needs ongoing care. What season are you in where you need joy?
Since that moment when the Lord began gently dropping joy in my heart, I have stood firmly on Psalm 126:3, quoted above. The Bible uses the word “happy” about 30 times, while “joy” and “rejoice” appear over 300 times! Why does the Bible focus on “joy” over “happiness?” What is the difference?
Here’s what I have learned. Happiness is based on circumstances. It’s externally motivated. What makes me happy? What gives me a warm feeling inside? Warm chocolate-chip cookies, most definitely! Warm cookies are great, but when I’m finished eating them, then what? They’re gone! They’re temporary. Oh, I can always cook another batch and eat some more, and then some more, but then what? They’re not gone at all! They’re now resting on my hips in a not-so-attractive way. When the thing that temporarily makes me feel all warm and cozy inside is gone, (or has produced an unwelcome result!), then what? Will I still be happy? Great question!
You see, happiness depends on what happens, but joy depends on the Lord! So, what are some practical ways to choose joy on a daily basis?
Philippians 4:4 challenges us with this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice!” Joy does not simply happen to us. No, joy is actually a choice we make. One amazing quality of joy is that it is a fruit of the Spirit. As we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to have His way in us every day, we are allowing Him to release a new wave of joy in our hearts.
Life happens and circumstances change. If our security is based on our circumstances, then when circumstances change in a way that we don’t like, we might not be happy anymore. But Jesus? He never changes. The Bible says that He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. He even set the standard for us in Hebrews 12:2: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Regardless of what happens, He loves us, He is always there with us, and His joy in us is complete.
Choose to Smile
Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.” The Message puts it this way, “[We are] immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy.” Practically speaking, we have to choose to put on joy. Just like we choose what clothes we wear each day, we choose what expression we put on our faces. Sometimes our joy is the source of our smile, and sometimes our smile can be the source of our joy!
Choose to Serve
The thing I love about serving the needs of others is that it takes my focus off of myself. It almost doesn’t matter where you serve. Just serve somebody somewhere! Here’s the litmus test of that: when you’re doing something that benefits someone else and it doesn’t benefit you personally, that’s serving! And it will benefit you, because it will get you outside of thinking about yourself. Serving helps bring a healthy perspective to the challenges we all face.
Choose to be Thankful
At some point every day, choose to simply thank God for His goodness and kindness towards you. I find that an attitude of thankfulness releases more of God’s joy in my heart. It builds an upward spiral of encouragement, versus the downward spiral towards emptiness that I was tempted to allow in my heart earlier this year.
My prayer for you today is that the Lord will bless you with joy in your journey. As you choose to make room for Him in your heart, and as you choose to smile, serve, and be thankful, may He fill you completely with His presence, because in His presence is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11).