When one is cooped up in an apartment interacting with friends and family members via FaceTime and Zoom life feels very different. The happiness that comes from personal touch, freedom of movement, and worshipping with others can be drained away. Often, as happiness wanes, so too does joy. But it doesn’t have to happen that way.
Consider this, happiness is an emotion. Circumstances, like the current coronavirus crisis, can have a profound effect on one’s happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude or belief. Happiness is often dependent on external circumstances, while Joy comes from within. The greatest joy springs from a relationship with the God of the universe, and that relationship is secured by what Jesus did on the cross. When one accepts the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us, repents of their self-centeredness and asks Jesus to be lord of their lives, one begins to know joy that surpasses any measure of happiness that one might experience.
In his letter to the church at Philipi, Paul, an apostle who at the time was under house arrest in the capital city of Rome, wrote about joy—what it is, where it comes from, and how to get it. His circumstances were deplorable. Instead of a two or three-month stay at home order, he was well into a five-year stay-at-home order, with soldiers posted to make sure he obeyed. Yet he could write:
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
His joy sprung from his relationship with God and the assurance he had of spending eternity free from his physical pain and bondage. He wrote:
I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:18-24)
Paul’s focus was away from his circumstances and onto Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord. That focus led him to joy and will lead you to joy. Reading your Bible daily, and setting quiet time to pray is the best way to reclaim joy in your life.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
In times of uncertainty, knowing which step to take next can be challenging. It can particularly difficult for graduates who are not graduating because of the COVID-19 virus; for students not sure if they should return to college in the fall; for those whose jobs have been eliminated; for church, civic and business leaders struggling with decisions about when and how to reopen.
Christians, in particular, wrestle with the notion that God has a plan for their lives and the day-to-day reality that those plans seem to be in disarray. Following the example of Jesus is the best way to navigate through the uncertainty. Jesus had a mission and everything he did was focused on that mission to take the punishment for sin of all people, past, present and future, onto himself at the cross. He died so that those who accept what he did for them would become “clean” before God and know for certain that they would live forever with him. (John 5:19-24)
So determining your mission in life is an important first step in deciding what you should do with your uncertain future. That will take some work. Jesus was in regular communion with God, his father, to ensure he was “staying on course.” For you and me, regular communion with God through prayer and Bible reading will help you align your thoughts with his. That will help bring clarity to your mission in life.
In addition, as you meditate on God’s word, and learn to hear from him in prayer, your anxiety will diminish, and you will more clearly see a path before you. Ask God what he wants for your life and you may discover a future different from the one you had envisioned. Interruptions to education or a career opens new horizons.
Paul, the Apostle, went from being a persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:3) to the leading evangelist, church planter and pastor in the history of Christianity. It happened because he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9) and used his education, his speaking and writing skills, and his Roman citizenship to carry the message of Jesus throughout the Roman world.
As with Paul, once you align your thoughts with those of Jesus, you will find that the path forward will come into focus.
Jesus used a variety of ways to speak to people, but he didn’t use riddles. He spoke in parables and used illustrations to get certain points across, but he didn’t play mind games with those to whom he spoke. In fact, about the most important work he came to do, he was plain-spoken.
Early in his ministry, Jesus did not want to reveal himself to authorities as the son of God, because he had work to do to train disciples and give religious leaders time to recognize their sin and repent, so he used stories to allude to his work without being as clear as some wanted to hear, but the religious leaders understood what he was saying and didn’t like it. For example, when he spoke parables about sheep and shepherds, he wasn’t trying to get people to think about farmers out in the countryside, he was citing the revered scripture about the failure of religious leaders to lead the people in the way God directed them. (Ezekiel 34:1-6)
Sheep are woven into the fabric of the Bible story dating back to the first murder that took place when God favored the sacrifice of a sheep over that of grain. From the Passover lamb that was to be sacrificed (Exodus 12:1-30) to John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, who declared Jesus the Lamb of God, (John 1:19-34) sheep have figured prominently in God’s story. Jesus’ many audiences knew well what he was saying when he used stories about sheep (the average citizen) and the shepherds (religious leaders) who were leading them to slaughter (away from God).
Where Jesus was very direct in teaching, some, even his closest disciples, refused to believe or accept what he was saying. On three occasions Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be killed and would be raised from the dead. (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:30-32, Mark 10:32-34) But when that came to pass, they had trouble believing it.
While the Bible can sometimes be hard to understand, once we ask God, through the Holy Spirit, to open our spiritual eyes, we will gain insights and understanding that will lead us to acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God whose sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead offers us assurance of eternal pardon for our sins and an eternity in God’s presence free of guilt, pain, suffering and death.