One afternoon, I was particularly determined to get all my work completed by the end of the day. I drove downtown toward a quiet hotel, with a secluded lobby, where I would be free to write without any interruptions. I had to stop on the way because my gas tank was on empty. (Someone had borrowed my car and left it without gas!)
Next, I stopped at a coffee shop. Before I ordered, I saw a mug on sale and thought, I would much rather drink out of a real mug so I bought it. I turned to walk away from the counter—and promptly dropped my new purchase. It shattered into hundreds of pieces. I bent down to clean it up and saw that the coffee had spilled on my new shirt. Finally after I cleaned up the mess and fixed my shirt as best as I could, I got on the road again—and was promptly halted by a long, unexpected construction detour. It wasn't dire circumstances, but every moment was a new irritation. I suppose we all have days like this.
I could feel my frustration mounting, my stomach slowly turning in knots. Tempted to become irritated at how my day was going, I realized that I was wasting my time, fretting and that it wasn't going to do any good. It's as though a little angel pricked my heart to remind me that God had not lost control. Slowly, I decided to give this book I was working on and its deadline over to the Lord. I chose not to pay attention to the broken mug and my dirty shirt. After so many years of living in the throes of life, I breathed and remembered that this chaos is just part of normal life. So I put on some quiet instrumental music, sat back in my seat, and slowly began to enjoy the peace as I waited to move through the congested traffic.
A commitment to living a life of joy involves a one-time decision in our heart: "Lord, I want to know your joy every day of my life, and I will seek to find out what it means to dwell in your presence in joy."
Choosing to cultivate joy through challenging circumstances requires us to look for God’s fingerprints along the way.
Experiencing joy, though, is a long-term process and it takes a lifetime to slowly move from stress mode to living into the peace God wants us to know through all the moments of life—a journey toward maturity as we begin to be aware of those thoughts and worries that would steal our joy.
The more we practice taking all of our troubled thoughts captive, the more easily we will recognize them before they take hold in our heart. Practice and discipline provide strength training for our mental muscles and heart responses. So walking in the reality of joy is a road we truly find only as we mature and become stronger. The more consistently we follow that path—believing in God's goodness and turning away from Satan's taunts—the more the habit to submit to the Lord and trust him becomes second nature.
We can make a commitment to take every situation, every feeling, every fear to God as it happens. We don't have to remain in a state of emotional separation from the Lord every time we get out of step. We simply have to practice walking each step with him and allow his presence to bring us the joy that comes from resting in the arms of our capable dance partner through each measure of life's song.
Paul wrote, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). What does it mean to take every thought in your head "captive" to the obedience of Christ?
Are there any specific patterns of thought (fear, jealousy, irritation, impatience) that you struggle with? How does this rob your joy?
What do you need to do to change that pattern?
I've written more about intentionally living a life of joy in Dancing With My Father. You can find it here!