Has your heart ever been so full you thought it might burst? Filled with a joy that seemed explosive? Perhaps a wedding day, or a baby's birth? Although this kind of joy may not be our "daily normal," I wonder how long it's been since you've felt like that? And, can that kind of joy be accessed independent of thrilling circumstances?
Let's begin with reality: the world isn't propping up our joy. Our hearts are repeatedly beaten down by a band of killjoys. Here are merely a few which strive to crush us:
- Pandemic-related restrictions: masks, double masks, six-feet apart, working from home, Zoom calls, loneliness, no holidays, no hugs.
- Winter: bitter cold, gray days, gray slush, early sunsets, electric bills.
- The News Cycle: executive orders, unwanted babies, unbiblical morality, partisan news sources, First Amendment restrictions, cancel-culture, social media censorship, propaganda, politics, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
- Tom Brady won again.
With apologies to Tom Brady fans, we face a tsunami of bad news. In the middle of such chaos, how can anyone be joyful or optimistic? Is it even possible? It is, but it'll take rearranging our mental furniture.
- Ponder Jesus.
- Limit your consumption of news, at least for a season. I once heard that C. S. Lewis never read newspapers. Why? Too distracting from reality. Whether we realize it or not, what we don't see going on in the world is far more real than what we do see. The big news today isn't the second impeachment trial. It's Jesus' Already-But-Not-Fully-Yet-Kingdom is on the march, and it will be the default standard for all eternity. It's coming soon to a theater near you (I realize no one goes to theaters in a pandemic, but that will end, too!).
- See #1.
- Talk in real time with real people about real things we're grateful for. Last night I interviewed a young couple for membership in our church. As they shared their stories of how they've come to rely on Jesus alone, our hearts were mutually warmed. I pressed in with some questions like: "Why did Jesus have to die? I mean, why couldn't he have done a 1,000 push-ups instead, and died an old man of natural causes?" This caused the three of us to reflect on the stunning goodness of God to have Jesus pay the ultimate penalty – that we should have paid ourselves. Who would get in line for that job? What innocent person would die willingly in place of a guilty mass-murderer? No one but Jesus. (If you're wondering if you're a mass-murderer, read Jesus' words in Matthew 5:21-22).
- See #1 again.
- No need to belabor the point. The key to bursting with joy is a fresh apprehension – a daily apprehension – of what Jesus did for us. If you're like me, you know that 7 hours of sleep effectively erases this apprehension and we must rediscover that perspective the following morning. Am I right? It may sound funny, but I had a seminary professor who quipped he was "an atheist every day until 10 am." I understand. Daily he had to go on a search mission to find Jesus and apply him to his heart. Me too.
Simple advice? Yes. Easily followed? Perhaps not. But I'm confident there is no other solution to find joy in our joy-sucking world. Will you join me this morning? Grab a cup of coffee, a scone, and your Bible. Let's flip it open, read it (aloud?), and begin to ponder how unexpectedly beautiful Jesus really is.