"True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness." These words come from John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted (Zondervan, 2002, p. 68).
As mentioned in an earlier post, I've been trying to read through the Psalms this summer. One thing that stands out to me, especially as I am also trying to read Ortberg's book, is the reference that the psalmist makes about finding joy in the Lord. What I discovered in most of these Psalms with reference to joy is exactly what Ortberg is referring to in the above quote—that joy in the scriptures isn't a happiness I can construct or a feeling I can create by lining my life up in the "correct" way. It isn't about what I have, what I want or what I need. It isn't about what I am doing for others or even what others are doing in return for me. It is simply offering my life—all of it—to God. It's knowing that I am because of Him and for Him.
According to the NIV Study Bible, Psalm 16 is believed to be a written by David as he is pleading for safekeeping against death. It is likely that he wrote this in a situation of great danger. But it also is reported as a "psalm of trust." Reading it from the possible perspective of David hiding from King Saul or from his very own son who was taking over his throne, David shows an incredible dependence on God, his Sustainer and Protector. It also shows David's faith as he declares God's promises to him. Reading this same passage as a "psalm of trust," I hear those same promises (although not with the impending threat of death looming). I hear God's promise of a delightful inheritance in Christ. I hear God's instructing my heart. I hear the importance of keeping God always before me.
"You have made known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11
We all have situations in life that bring us down and diminish joy. I can look in my recent past and see many, many, many times where I didn't agree with God's plan, where He made no sense, where my joy was being robbed, where I was trying to work out my own happiness . . . It is a yucky place to be. And it is mostly that way because my focus wasn't solely on God at all times, who is Joy and gives me joy to make it though any situation.
Ortberg also says this: "We must arrange our life so that sin no longer looks good to us . . . the joy of the Lord brought strength." (p. 66) Ortberg suggests that we can become joyful people. I tend to agree with him as I believe that is what God intended for us to be when He created each of us! Here is a (very) paraphrased list of some suggestions from his book to restore joy to its proper place in your life—a few suggestions I found useful for myself anyway.
1. Begin now—don't put off trying to restore true happiness. Choose to start today, whether that means stopping everything and reading your Bible now, switching your radio from its current station to a Christian CD, or turning off the TV to take a walk in His creation.
2. Find a joy mentor—find someone who will speak joy into your life and encourage you in your quest to restore this fruit of the Spirit back into your life. This could mean deleting some conversations or even people from your life for the time being. This could mean refusing to engage in certain conversations or finding a new common ground in some situations.
3. Set aside a day to "celebrate."—Find ways to participate in and celebrate His joy, set aside a Sabbath, or even set aside a short time daily to reflect on God's goodness and your interactions with His gift of joy.
4. "Unplug" for a week—Cut out distractions. It's kind of like fasting in a sense. Most distractions tend to be electronic, but it could be anything that is not refreshing you or building your spirit.
5. Discipline your mind to view life from a biblical perspective—probably one of the hardest (for me, anyway) to start looking at life through God's eyes, to rid myself of judgment and to indulge more in His Word. A change of perspective can make a world of change!
So . . . I think I am going to continue in my quest for joyful living. My trials can turn bitter or better. With my eyes fixed on God, I'm hoping for all to turn out better. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
Here are a few other "joy" passages to look up (or memorize?): Psalm16:11, 43:4, 48:2, 67:4, 126:5, Psalm 118:25 and 31:7, Hebrew 12:1-3, Nehemiah 8-9, Romans 5:8-11