I sit here on a cloudy gray day with cool temperatures thinking about how easy it is to feel unmotivated on such a day. I come to live with them and accept them earlier in the spring or late winter, but by mid-May I long for the sunshine and increasing warmth that hints of summer.
On days such as this, I can be far more aware of what is wrong in the world, what is challenging friends and family, and the weight of all of it than when the weather perks up everyone and everything.
I can feel the subtle downward tug on my heart and spirit, sense the shadow try to creep over my thoughts.
On such days it is far less easy to keep the one thing present that is absolutely essential.
The dictionary describes joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. That is a starting place to consider this essential ingredient, but it really doesn’t make the shift needed to regain that sense of joy.
I can think about how so much of the world is broken even as the people are broken. It can be easy to think this is unusual, but even a quick scan of recent or ancient history tells a different story.
Today as I considered that my thoughts came to rest in Nehemiah. It is one of the Old Testament books I love. I never fail to see comparisons for the present when I look back into the text.
Nehemiah’s leadership and clear focus also provoke me as he guides the people in rebuilding the walls and gates of the city of Jerusalem that had been decimated by God’s punishment for the sins of His people. God had used the Philistines, Assyria, Babylon, and others seeking to awaken His people to return to Him.
Then I come upon the scene when Ezra reads the book of the law to them and helps them understand it. Finally their hearts are pierced and those listening begin to weep and mourn as they recognize how far they have drifted from God.
But then Nehemiah steps forward and admonishes them in that familiar verse to rejoice and enjoy the Lord and His goodness in Nehemiah 8:10:
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Joy is more than a feeling.
It is a central reality for those who trust in the Lord and rest in His great love for them. It is something we are to embody in how we face life and respond to the circumstances we face.
I love what Margaret Feinberg says about joy in her excellent book, Fight Back with Joy:
“Joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us. The tigerish love of God from which joy comes is foundational to faith. God’s love guards us, protects us, grows us, strengthens us, and compels us to walk in greater trust and holiness. This is no passive affection, but a feisty, fiery pledge to grow us into the fullness of Christ. When we embrace this love and cultivate an awareness of it, our hearts are filled with joy.”
My response to His fierce love for me is to “cultivate” an awareness of that love.
Cultivating requires hard work on my part. I cannot just sit there asking for it to happen. I need to participate. I need to plow up the ground of my heart, mind, and spirit. I need to turn over the earth, get rid of the weeds sown there by the enemy, and fertilize the soil with the rich truth of His love.
The fertilizer often comes from putting to death everything that is not like Him in my life. It comes from laying my disappointments, discouragements, dead hopes and dreams before Him mixed with my hot tears, then allowing Him to mulch them into the soil so new growth can occur.
I need to face the reality that the enemy of my soul hates joy.
When I utilize it as a weapon to fight his devices, he cannot win against my deep abiding awareness of my identity as a fiercely loved daughter of the Lord.
God created us to know and experience joy. When my heart, mind, and spirit intersect with His love, joy erupts and equips me to rise above the circumstances of my day and life. It becomes a powerful tool!
Joy is a gift and a tool we must not forget to cultivate, hold fast to, and utilize every day. Choosing joy is not easy and may not even make sense. Perhaps that is one reason it is such a powerful and effective tool.