Joy to the World. Yeah, right.


 But the fruit of the Spirit is 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Isn't it funny in our modern society how the word "joy" only shows up at Christmastime? You never hear anyone talking about joy any other time of year, but in December we hear Yuletide joy, Christmas joy, Joy to the World, Joyeux Noelle, etc. Mention joy any other time of year and you're likely to get a raised eyebrow.

Ask anyone to define it, and what you'll get is their definition of happiness. We think of joy in relation to our emotions---that giddy happiness that tingles inside our chest when something fantastic is happening.
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But joy is not tied to our circumstances and that's where our ability to manufacture it ends. When the computer crashes, my kid just got an F in Algebra, and my husband's job is on the line, I do have strong feelings tingling inside my chest, but they are nothing close to giddy happiness.
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So how is it possible to have joy all the time?
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I was struck at the number of times in the Bible joy is paired with the words "suffering, tribulation, affliction, and hardship." They go together like peanut butter and jelly. The Apostle Paul was always talking about how joyful he was, usually after he'd been beaten and thrown in prison.
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So what's up with that? I start whining when I have to wait for a slow train to cross the street.
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I am coming to see that these nine fruits of the Spirit are decisions we make every day. We can choose joy or we can choose from any number of negative reactions to the events in our lives. Instead of becoming angry and discouraged when he was arrested again, Paul chose to see it as an opportunity to learn patience, to share in part of the suffering Christ experienced, and to testify to his abusers.
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Maybe you don't have a problem with walking in joy every day, but I am not by nature a joyful person. Not only is the glass half-empty, but my natural inclination is to find out who spilled it and why. 
And that's why God has to do this in us. We're slow learners. He understands that so He carefully listed the traits he wants us to demonstrate.
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That's what I'm learning to do, adopt those nine Fruits as my own and choose to live in them whether I feel like it or not.
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And guess what! It gets easier the more you do it.
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Joy is a sacrifice we offer to God
when we'd rather be crying or beating someone up.
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Joy is the ability to overlook our temporary circumstances
in favor of keeping our eyes on eternity.
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Our emotions follow our will, just like a train. The more we let God's power flow through us to manifest these Fruits, the more our emotions start to catch on. The more we rely on God to live out his life in us, the more it starts to feel natural and the less we have to force ourselves to respond his way instead of ours.
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So, the next time the car breaks down, your son comes home with another section of his body pierced, your daughter calls to tell you she just married a carny, and the power goes off in your house...what are you gonna do?

Joy remembers that God knows about it, cares about it, and will stay right there with you until the crisis is gone. Joy knows that everything I do for God will never fade away and it focuses on that in the midst of earthly stress.
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So whether life becomes a hurricane or the good times are rolling, "consider it all joy!"(James 1:2)
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2 comments:

Deborah M said...

Hey Lea Ann,
What a timely subject for me. I've just had a great disappointment and hurt from things my brother said. The emotional pain felt unbearable and it would be very easy to hang on to unhealthy emotions. It is much better to feel the pain and then know that better things are ahead. This is a hard lesson to learn, but one that keeps us healthy and our faith alive. Thanks for your post.
Deborah M.

Lea Ann McCombs said...

Deborah, I'm glad it helped. This is a work in progress for me too. It can be very difficult to separate our emotions from the joy God wants us to experience, but I'm learning that the more I practice it with my will, the easier it gets. Have a great weekend and enjoy the Lord!