Joy Despite Circumstances A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

joy

My favorite shot from Myron’s 7-month photoshoot!

 

Joy Despite Circumstances

The photo above is of my son, Myron.  That shot was taken right in the middle of a crazy day.  He had been fussy just before this photoshoot and he was fussy right after it.  But right there in the middle of all that fussiness, Myron found some joy.

Sure, some of his favorite toys, books, and stuff helped.  But joy was found nonetheless!

To be honest, Myron’s experience of joy sounds an awful lot like mine.  As I’m seeking to live a Spirit-synced way of life, I often find joy wedged right in between hardships.

Right between a letdown at work and a car problem.

Right between bad news about a family member and a plumbing problem.

Right between violence in the neighborhood and burning dinner.

It’s right there that joy is found, the joy that is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

 

In Every Season of Life

The circumstances that shouldn’t impact our joy from the Spirit are not just limited to one-time events.  No.  We should find joy in all seasons of life, even those seasons that seem long, dry, and difficult.

How do we do this?  Do we try to manufacture joy on our own, putting on a happy face for the world to see?

joy

By: Janelle

No!  When we try to drum up joy on our own, it may look cute for a minute or two, an hour or two, or even a day or two…but eventually people will see that this “joy” is as real as a plastic doll’s smile.

Instead we can only truly experience joy as we walk in step with the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5.  That’s where we’ll find joy.

The unending depth of joy that are available in the Spirit is our source of joy, not our will power, discipline, or acting ability!

 

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

So we shouldn’t fake it ’til we make it!  We should trust in the Spirit of God to infuse us with his joy as we walk with him.

Now if there’s anyone who needs to hear this advice, it’s us — Christians!  I bet this scenario sounds familiar to you if you’ve been part of the Church (at least in America!) for a while:

It’s Sunday morning and the time when you need to leave the house to arrive to the worship service more or less on time is rapidly dwindling.  Everyone in the house is harried, frantic, and on-edge.  People are yelling at each other.  There’s a fight over who showers next.  Maybe even an expletive or four are thrown around.

Then you get in the car.  No matter how long your drive is, it’s probably filled with continued stress and anger.  More yelling.  Threats of violence are leveled against the children.  Promises of eternal hate are returned.

Then you arrive in the parking lot that you use when you go to the worship service.  Until the doors to the car are opened, a few more tight-lipped verbal salvos are lobbed at one another.  But everyone is taking care to not look like they’ve just been angry at one another for at least the last ninety minutes!

Then the car doors open.  That’s when the plastic smile from the doll in the picture above is slapped across everyone’s faces.  The family must put on airs, appearing to be happy, loving, and joyful.

And the sad truth: everyone else is doing it too.  Okay, not everyone.  I know there’s a few of you out there who live this Spirit-synced life better than the rest of us!

But it’s truly sad that during our times of Christian community and gathered worship we are most tempted to fake joy or the manufacture it on our own.

It would be better for us to be honest with ourselves, our families, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  At least that way we could begin to grow and learn.  As long as we’re pretending we don’t need to learn, we’re certainly not going to seek learning out!

So let’s NOT fake it ’til we make it.  Let’s pursue the Spirit, being vulnerable along the way.  Let’s admit our shared humanity and help one another find the joy of the Spirit more and more!

 

Biblical Joy

My favorite place in the New Testament that reflects on joy (to some degree) is the beginning of Philippians 2.  Here it is:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2.1-4)

Paul had a vested interest in the church at Philippi.  He planted the church in Philippi and was falsely imprisoned while doing so (Acts 16.11-40).  And so this church, which initially met in the home of an early female Christian leader named Lydia, had a special place in Paul’s heart.

You can see this in Paul’s words in Philippians 2.  He’s begging them to be unified.  And he says that if they are unified together — being like-minded, having one love, putting aside selfishness and embracing true community — then his joy would be made complete.

He doesn’t say that he won’t have any joy until this happens, just that if the church in Philippi his joy will be complete.  This word, “complete,” can mean “full” or “mature” as well.  It’s almost as if Paul is saying that his joy is like a fine wine, and when the church in Philippi finally gets unified, then his joy will be properly aged and ready to be enjoyed.

But I want to be sure we note a few things here.

  • First, this kind of joy that Paul longs for has its origins in a “common sharing of the Spirit.”  This isn’t a joy that can be manufactured on one’s own.  It comes from the Spirit of God working within and among his people.
  • Second, this kind of joy is communal.  Paul’s joy is deeply connected to the church in Philippi and their joy is connected to Paul and to one another.  Joy isn’t something that is reserved for individuals to enjoy on their own.  It’s born in community (through joint pursuit of the Spirit) and it is best expressed to one another within community.
  • Third, immediately following this passage at the beginning of Philippians 2, Paul writes that we should have the same mindset that Christ had.  In other words, in order for joy to be made complete, we need to be more and more Christ-like.  In fact, I’m going to make a revolutionary claim here: living a Spirit-synced life is a synonym for following Jesus!  *gasp*  As we pursue the Spirit, he’ll lead us to live like Jesus lived when he was walking around on earth.  And as we seek to imitate Jesus, we can only do so with the aid and help of the Spirit (and one another).
  • Fourth, joy and love are intimately connected.  As we discussed previously, love is a choice which is acted upon to put the interests of others before our own.  In so doing, joy can be made complete.  And as we experience joy (both as a recipient and a conduit), we’ll demonstrate our love for one another more and more!  Paul would talk about this more in Philippians 4, where he says that because of what he has found in Christ and within community, he can have joy, that is, contentment, in all situations and at all times.  I don’t know about you…but that’s what I want!

 

So joy means having a deep and abiding sense of contentment despite what life, circumstances, and others throw at us.  Joy is based on the unchanging nature of the Triune God and not on our moods, our life stages, or our friends and family.  But when we experience joy, it is one of those things that can only truly be enjoyed with others!

 

What do you think?  How do you define joy?  How does pursuing the Spirit help you find it?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ugliness of Envy How to ensure that you'll be unappealing and unattractive!

I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!

But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too.  So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too.  (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)

Envy

Green with Envy

Envy Invades Us All

Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know.  Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence.  I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory.  I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”

My guess is that this story resonates with you.  Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.

The Impact of Envy

What’s so bad about envy?  Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?

Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:

  1. Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have.  Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.”  Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world.  And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.  If someone else has it, then I have to too!
  2. Envy impacts the people around us.  Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  Do you see it?  The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee.  Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans.  The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.

Envy Solution

So what’s the answer to envy?  Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone.  If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay?  Would we be happy?  Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?

A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4).  Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame?  Will it ever be enough?

And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.  So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.

Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray.  We need to ask God to help us.  We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy.  We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

 

What do you think?  How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.