In December, as I began reflecting on my normal pattern of making a list of New Year’s resolutions, I sensed God showing me there was a better way. I did some research about the effectiveness – or rather ineffectiveness – of making New Year’s resolutions, and I was convinced that choosing ONE WORD to focus on in 2016 was a wiser choice.
God spoke to my heart that I needed to focus on inward change and my outward problems would fall in line. That made sense. After prayer and several confirmations, I knew what my Word of the Year for 2016 was to be: JOY.
Well, the new year is now here and I’m doing some reading to better understand what JOY really means. First, joy isn’t the same thing as happiness. When my circumstances are favorable, I’m happy. But happiness is just a feeling. When something hard happens, I’m definitely not happy.
On the other hand, Scripture makes it clear that joy isn’t a feeling. In James 1:2, we are told to “count it all joy” when trials come. Other translations say to “consider it all joy.” Count and consider are both words that have to do with the mind, with how we’re thinking. So joy is a choice we make in our minds, and it is unrelated to what is happening to us. Joy comes from God. Not circumstances. Not pleasure. Not possessions. Not a healthy body. Not positive emotions. Instead, joy is a choice to honor God’s Word in spite of everything that is happening around us.
To better understand joy, I started reading Choose Joy Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, by Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren. In the first chapter of the book, I found one of the best definitions of joy that I’ve ever read. According to Kay Warren, joy is:
- The settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life,
- The quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright,
- And the determined choice to praise God in every situation.
While the three points of this definition are all important, I think unfortunately one important point was left out. In my own personal experience, joy usually begins when I make the decision to consciously look for something I can thank God for in the midst of my difficult situation.
Or as Rachel Wojo says in her book One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up, “No matter your testing or trial, God has gifts for you right where you are. Smack-dab in the middle of your desert…When we find ourselves waiting in the desert, we can unwrap a few gifts to hydrate and nourish us.”
Gratefulness in the midst of my desert situation has been my most effective entry into joy. During a recent group study of Rachel Wojo’s book, I made a “Gifts in the Desert” jar, using the below graphic. When I’m feeling discouraged, I usually start by asking God to show me His gift in this wilderness situation. Then, I write it on a strip of paper and add it to my jar. For example, I might be feeling down because physical pain is keeping me from attending our Sunday morning church service. But I see God’s gift in the situation – our church services are broadcast live via the Internet. So I record this gift on a slip of paper, put it in my gifts jar, and lean back in my recliner and enjoy watching our church service.
Yes, God is in control.
Yes, everything is going to turn out alright, in eternity if not before.
And yes, I make the choice to praise God in the situation I personally would like to avoid.
But before I’m ready to acknowledge these truths and take these actions, I usually start with looking for God’s gifts in this place where I’d rather not be.
This understanding has made a major change in the way I handle difficult circumstances. I encourage you to try it.