I admit to being overly serious much of the time. I spend a lot of time thinking about serious things, such as reaching the unreached with the gospel and fighting injustice in the world. But I am trying to learn not to take myself so seriously. There are serious things in the world, but I am not one of them. So when a friend mentioned one time that he had forgotten how to have fun, his comment struck a deep chord in me. I thought I, too, have forgotten. So I decided to write a note to myself: “Remember how to have fun!” I put it on the opening page of my daily calendar so that I see it every day. Sometimes just seeing that reminder causes me to change my attitude and lighten up a little. I once heard a speaker describe how he putt a small goofy-looking toy in his front pants pocket so that whenever he waxed eloquent before a large crowd and was tempted to take himself too seriously, he could put his hand in his pocket—and smile.
One of the great things about living the joyful life is that joy is deeper than happiness. Happiness is connected to circumstances, coming from things that “happen.” The world tries to use the temporary pleasures of sin to bring a “happiness high” through things such as getting drunk, stoned, or engaging in illicit sex. The Bible admits that sin can bring pleasure, but such pleasure doesn’t last long. It is a temporary happiness (Hebrews 11:25). However, a person can experience deep, long-lasting biblical joy even in the middle of suffering and struggle. The Apostle Paul uses forms of the word joy fourteen times in his letter to the Philippians, a letter he penned while in prison—not a happy circumstance. In Acts 16, we read about how Paul and Silas sang joyful hymns to God at midnight—also in prison.
Part of living the joyful life is remembering that God is above all circumstances. The prophet Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). And so I love Henri Nouwen’s definition of joy: He says that joy is knowing that you are unconditionally loved by God and that nothing can take his love away. We can obey Paul’s command in Scripture, to rejoice at any time, when we use such a definition. In a sense, we can daily choose joy by choosing to focus on the truth of God’s love for us. God gives us the power to choose our mood and attitudes. If we want to, we can choose joy every day.
REFLECTIONS: Do you struggle with sadness or depression? What simple reminder can you put in your life to remind you that you are unconditionally loved? Write the words “choose joy” in a place you will see it daily. Who do you know who needs joy in his or her life? To whom can you bring joy this week through an intentional act of kindness?
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!