This past weekend I saw one of my favorite bands in concert.
The lights and music were all so exciting and everyone cheered with happiness. As the band played a new song, "Joy," I was struck by the lyrics that said: "The time has come to make a choice, and I choose joy."
I listened to the music and I shouted along with every lyric that I knew. And in that moment it was so easy to choose joy because I felt like being joyful. It was easy as I danced and sang about joy to make that my choice because it felt good. But when I went home? I knew it wasn't going to be that easy.
I knew it wouldn't be easy to choose joy when I went back to work and had to deal with a difficult customer. I knew it wouldn't be easy to choose joy when I woke up in a bad mood or had a disagreement with a family member. I knew it wouldn't be easy to choose joy when I didn't feel good, when I had a disappointing change of plans, when friends hurt me, or when I was stressed out.
And that's what makes this choice for joy so difficult, friend.
Because joy is a choice based not feelings but on a decision. A decision to keep an eternal perspective in the midst of not-so-great temporary circumstances.
Did you catch that? Joy is not something that we always feel, because it's a decision we make. The decision to believe that God is good, that God loves me, and that God wants what is best for me, no matter what is going on in my life at the moment. The decision to draw my happiness from the cross and the gift God has given me there.
And yet I know it is still a difficult choice to make. So here are just a few things that I believe will help make it easier...
1. Stay in God's Word. The more time you spend in the Word of God, the more mature you will become in Christ and the easier it'll be to draw your joy from His strength. You can't expect to rejoice in God or find your strength to be joyful in Him without spending time with Him. Wake up thirty minutes earlier if you have to. Go to sleep thirty minutes later. Stay off your phone or social media or TV for thirty extra minutes. But make time for Jesus first.
2. Surround yourself with a community of believers who love Jesus. Have you ever met someone who felt like sunshine? Someone who was enthusiastic about Jesus and encouraged you whenever you were around that person? Surround yourself with these people. That's not to say your friends won't ever be sad or go through hard times and you need to be there for them when they're feeling down. But these are people whose focus is on Christ and you work towards encouraging each other in your faith.
3. Take a social media break. Relationships are super important to me and so whenever I take a social break, I still keep in touch with friends through the phone, text, or email. But the social media break I'm talking about is staying off of your Facebook and Instagram news feeds. Stop scrolling, stop comparing, and just take a step away. Maybe you only step away for a day, maybe two days, maybe a whole month. But figure out how much time you need to step back and regain your joy in the Lord and then take your break.
4. Count your blessings. I know it sounds so cliche to say, but it holds so much truth. There are so many little blessings around us daily. Like the way the sun shines in your open window or you opened your fridge to see that your mom had bought your favorite snack. God sends us so many blessings. Keep your eyes open to notice them, journal about them, tell friends. Be mindful of them.
5. Listen to worship music. I have a super wide range of music taste and I love so many different kinds. But when I'm having an especially rough day and joy is a hard choice to make, I enjoy listening to upbeat worship music that puts a smile on my face and a dance in my step. Songs that praise God and His faithfulness are especially good. Hillsong Young & Free have lots of fun worship songs or you could always listen to For King and Country's "Joy." ;)
I want you to know that I'm not ignoring the pain in the world or the pain in your heart. I recognize suffering. And I believe there is a time to mourn and grieve (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Matthew 5:4; Psalm 34:18). One of the things I dislike the most is when Christians cover up pain and suffering or make it like it is not a very real thing.
Choosing joy doesn't mean that you give everyone a fake smile and cover up all the hard stuff with Christian sayings. Choosing joy sometimes looks like allowing yourself to feel all the hurt and the grief your heart is holding, and still choosing to believe that God has a perfect plan even though you cannot see it. Choosing joy sometimes looks like praising God for who He is because He never changes, despite the heartbreaking changes of your circumstances. Choosing joy may look like tears running down your face and crying out to God for answers, but telling Him that you trust Him no matter what He says.
I can't promise it'll be easy, but I invite you to join me in this dance of choosing joy through the pain.
The joy of the Lord will be your strength.
What are some things you have learned recently that help you choose joy in the midst of painful circumstances? What does joy look like to you? Do you have any favorite songs you listen to that encourage you to choose joy or worship God no matter what?