Joy is both a gift from God and a command of God. We find joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11). So every follower of Christ can celebrate that through His Spirit, God is growing in them the fruit of Joy (Galatians 5:22). At the same time, we are commanded in scripture to seek after Joy in the Lord and to beware of actions and attitudes that lead to grumbling. So these two truths run parallel for a Christian: We are to seek out our joy in the Lord knowing that God is working joy in us. So understanding this, how do we practically leave behind dissatisfaction and pursue the joy that God so graciously gifts His people?
1. Practice Thanksgiving
In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul teaches that both Joy (rejoicing) and Peace (not being anxious) are found by those who believe that God is near them and trusts that He will do good to them. We see Paul pray this in Romans 15:13 as well: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe (or as you trust). Joy and peace come to us as we are actively believing in God; a belief that is demonstrated in part by continual prayer. If we truly trust God, we will pray often and about everything.
But Paul also tells us there is a specific way we should pray: with Thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). It is easy to skip over this part. Being thankful is not an easy way to live. We have a nature that is quick to grumble and ignores the blessings of what God has already given us. But practicing being thankful is not only war against ingratitude but a path to peace and joy. We see this same connection in 1 Thessalonians 5: Rejoice Always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. Being thankful cultivates Joy in us and glorifies God through us. It will take discipline to strive to be intentionally thankful as we pray. But thankfulness is an essential characteristic of trusting in God and therefore essential to our pursuit of joy.
2. Learn contentment
Later in Philippians 4, Paul says that he has learned to be content whether he is in a time of prosperity or of need. And again we see that the solution he has discovered is to trust in the LORD. I can do all things, He says when I have the strength of Christ. This verse is not about excelling in every activity we attempt, but it is about our ability to excel in godliness during good days or hard days. Certainly, that godliness would include being joyful at all times. So practicing contentment is another way we pursue Joy in Christ.
Paul makes clear, contentment is something that we must learn from experience. When we are dissatisfied with how things are, we must practice responding rightly by trusting Christ and asking for His help. We can certainly hope for better circumstances and even work for them. But while we wait, we have a settled confidence that we are exactly where God wants us to be and that He will give us the grace to endure and to excel. This high view of God’s sovereignty over our circumstances not only protects us from grumbling, but it also leads us to the contentment that produces JOY.
3. Be watchful Over Your Thoughts
In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul tells the church to dwell on and put into practice the things that are from God. The relationship between thinking and action is very clear here. So it is a great diagnostic question for our souls to ask: What is the object of my most consistent thoughts? Because eventually, we will act on what we think about the most.
The prophet Jeremiah prayed: Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart (Jeremiah 15:16). I think this picture of consuming the word would certainly involve both meditation and action. A person who desires to be physically fit has a need to take in good food and then exercise. Likewise, a person who longs for spiritual fitness (which includes Joy) has a need to take in God’s word and apply it in obedience. Only the pure and godly things from above are able to bring us joy as we dwell on them deeply and then put them into practice.
4. Remain in Christian Community
Finally, in Philippians 4:10 Paul tells us that joy was stirred in his heart as he received the love and help provided to him by the church. What I have often seen in pastoral ministry is that people are tempted to flee to isolation in times of hurt and dissatisfaction. In doing so, they actually cut themselves off from one of the ways God has designed for His people to pursue joy. Proverbs 12:25 says that anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. Good, life giving words should be continually exchanged by the people of God. Words that come to you from other believers can rid your heart of worry and make you glad. So it is very important for us to be continually engaged with an active Christian community. This is a call to be with other believers. Get to know them; pray for them. Worship with them, and exchange with them good words from scripture. Those words will be used by God’s Spirit to bring gladness and encouragement to your soul! Abiding in this type of community is a way that you pursue Joy for yourself as well as for your faith family.
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