The word "JOY" abounds at Christmastime.
It's emblazoned on greeting cards and ornaments; written in lights and on iced cookies and cakes. Joy is associated with the announcement of Christ's birth, so it makes sense that we'd find it displayed more this time of year.
"But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." ~ Luke 2:10-11
What is joy?
Someone with a brand new podcast recently interviewed me about the release of Joy Is Contagious...Cancer Isn't. She logically asked me the question, "How could you possibly have joy after being diagnosed with cancer?"
In hindsight, I don't think my answer - which focused on having the peace of Christ - fit what she envisioned my response would be. Sadly, I bombed that interview but learned an important lesson that will help me in future chats with show hosts, and that is: joy means different things to different people. In the future, I think it would be helpful to define joy, even if I'm still learning what it is myself.
When I set out to write JICCI...
...my view of joy wasn't one of slap-happy giddiness. Though there are days that I'm annoyingly kind of like that due to my temperament.
To me, the person who possesses joy is like the Proverbs 31 woman who is clothed with strength and dignity and "can laugh at the days to come" or as the New Living Translation puts it, "laughs without fear of the future." EVEN if your future looks bleak to everyone around you, true joy enables you to face each tomorrow with a humble confidence. It's a peace, it's a joy, that overflows from our hope in Christ. Joy comes from trusting in Christ's goodness, knowing that everything He allows or does on our behalf benefits us in some way. As hard as it is to fathom, that means suffering in this life can bless us.
While looking for a succinct definition of joy, I found this from pastor and author John Piper: "Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world."
That seems straight forward, doesn't it? Actually, there's so much more to it that Piper does an entire video lesson on the definition of joy. He then follows it up with several more videos, one of which addresses the secret of joy in suffering. I'm sharing the first video here should you want to take a gander. Each one is only 10 minutes and worth your time.
I'm still learning about joy - what it means to be joyful when life gets hard. While I'm no expert, one thing I've learned is that genuine Christian joy can't occur without trust in Christ's goodness and love for us and that trust in Christ can't develop apart from Him. If we're not spending time with Him, then we're essentially sowing seeds of doubt. Those seeds eventually produce a message that can push us away from God, leaving us wondering if He ever really loved us in the first place. Despite what Christ's birth and journey to the cross tell us.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of joy. Please help me to experience it in my heart this Christmas season and beyond as I continue to rejoice in you. Amen.
Now, a little "Joy to the World" as you dwell on the meaning of JOY.
The book Jesus Always speaks to me in profound ways almost daily. Author Sarah Young – who suffers from chronic illnesses - writes throughout the 365 devotions as if Jesus is speaking DIRECTLY to you, based on scripture. Maybe you caught in my previous post Gifts of Joy how a friend (and I believe God) gifted me with this book that has meant so much to me and countless others. If you didn’t, I encourage you to read it – it’s brief – then come on back here.
Two weeks ago the day’s entry literally stopped me in my mental tracks with a thought I had never considered before, which is this… dwelling on our difficult circumstances can become an idol.
I thought idols were the desirable things we worship other than God, like money… people… education… careers. Because of copyright restrictions I can only share a short excerpt, but the next time you’re standing in the checkout at Hobby Lobby pick it up and flip to October 10 so you can read it in its entirety, or better yet buy it from your favorite bookstore for daily inspiration. She writes:
“A troublesome problem can become an idol in your mind. If you consistently think about something – pleasant or unpleasant – more than you think about Me, you are practicing a subtle form of idolatry. So it is wise to examine your thoughts.” ~ Sarah Young, Jesus Always
Again, she writes as if Jesus is talking to you.
Do you devote most of your mental energies to your problems? I confess that right after my cancer diagnosis last November that I sure did! Almost every thought I had included cancer, some thoughts based on reality while the rest centered on fallacy. My oncologist assured me that my Stage 1 cancer was very treatable yet my mind was still planning my funeral service and the parting words I’d leave with my children.
How could focusing on money problems, marital problems, health problems, career problems, children problems, relationship problems, self-image problems, world problems, you-name-it problems become an idol? Not that Young puts it this way, but I think it’s because when we dwell on our trials, we're electing to trap ourselves in a form of emotional bondage, versus choosing Christ, who came to set the captives free. When our struggles are the first thing we think of when we awake in the morning and when we collapse into bed at night, we’re neglecting to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We’re allowing our minds to run amok instead of surrendering our cares to the One who can and desires to bring us peace amidst our suffering.
So what’s the panacea for those of us who earn a gold medal in stinkin’ thinkin’?
Once we’ve become aware of our negative pattern of thinking we’re to confess it to Jesus, then ask Him to fill our thoughts with Him and other good things. We also need to take action by padding our minds with the Word. (I’m preaching to myself, here.) This requires discipline like anything else worth attaining. We don’t expect to drop 10 pounds without CONSISTENTLY changing our eating habits or hitting the gym. A day here and a day there of doing what we know is right simply won’t cut it. But you know that.
I’ve shared so many powerful messages from Jesus Always on-air during my morning show that I expect to receive a royalty check in the mail any day now. And perhaps a phone call from Ms. Young’s lawyer.
May the Lord grant you peace as you intentionally choose to walk with Him each day thinking about...
...“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” ~ Philippians 4:8
Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, an unexpected package arrived in the mail. It was from a sweet friend named Susan who lives hundreds of miles away in California and had endured a bi-lateral mastectomy. Knowing exactly what I’d need, she gave thoughtful gifts that were both practical and spiritual. A fanny pack to hold my surgical drains (practical) and a book of devotions by Sarah Young called Jesus Always (spiritual). I don’t think Susan knew it at the time, but God used her in an incredible way in my life.
First off, I had been meaning to order a fanny pack for myself but hadn’t gotten around to it. The one she sent arrived just in time for my mastectomy. Thank you, Susan, and thank you, Lord, a.k.a. Jehovah Jireh (God Provides)!
Now the book. Honestly, I didn’t look at it very closely when it arrived because when I pulled it out of the mailbox and its packaging we were in the car headed somewhere. Not to mention, it’s a daily devotional and since we were quickly approaching the New Year it seemed like a good idea to wait before diving in.
When January rolled around and I finally looked at it closely, it brought tears to my eyes. Why? Partly because I was suffering from anxiety and cried at everything then. (I’m so thankful that over time my nerves have begun to heal.) But mostly because at the top of the cover were five meaningful words: Embracing Joy in His Presence.
I hadn’t shared this with Susan, but God had grabbed my attention three months before my cancer diagnosis about the need for more joy in my life. HIS joy. I was at a Christian conference that was centered on the Lord’s mercy when the Holy Spirit whispered into my heart the words from Nehemiah 8:10 “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” I share that story in greater detail in Joy is Contagious…Cancer Isn’t, which should be available next month.
After that hallowed experience, the word JOY came to me from every divine direction. I know He was lovingly preparing me for the difficult journey ahead. He revealed to me that I had lost much of my joy and He expected me to face cancer with an abundance of it. And the amazing part was realizing that I could. That anyone can IF we remain plugged into that source of joy: Jesus.
I’ve not always done that well, remained plugged in to my Savior, seeking joy in His presence, even after His gentle yet powerful reminder that THAT is exactly what I need. But the good thing is that when I stumble and stray off course that it’s now obvious to me. Then I make a date with him for some one-on-one time just like I would with an inimitable friend and we have a refreshing visit.
This is not at all what I sat down to write. I planned to share a short excerpt from Jesus Always that deals with making our troubles an idol…a truly novel thought. But maybe you appreciate knowing why Young’s book means so much to me and I can share her insights on negative vs. pleasurable idols next time. Until then, let’s all reflect on the people, like Susan, that have blessed our lives and consider how we can foster and spread more joy.
[CHIME IN: Has God ever shared a message with you, either directly or through a trusted friend, to help you through a difficult time? If so, please share by replying to this post with the intent of encouraging others.]
Funny that the title "Author" appears above this description yet I have no idea what to share about myself in this space! How about my first name is Kim. My last name is Tisor. Tisor rhymes with miser, though I try not to be one.
For more information about me, please visit the author page.