The Christmas season finds the word “Joy” popping up on greeting cards, decorations, advertisements, and songs. If an archeologist were to excavate the 21st century and, in the layers of excavation, he stumbled onto what we call “Christmas time,” the artifacts would indicate that we were clearly a joyous people. What the archeologist may not catch is that we have subtly mistaken the concept of “joy” for “happiness.” Our addiction to happiness has left us fearful, anxious, and depressed. We move from one event, relationship, or purchase to the next, longing for a happiness fix like a drug fiend. Our incessant swiping, buying, eating, drinking, and consuming leave us empty and grasping at the wind. Joy and happiness may have some exterior similarities, but they are quite different at their core. Happiness is a state that one moves in and out of based on life circumstances, but joy is a deep and true thing that our hearts desperately long for. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “Joy” is the secret sauce of a powerful Christian life.
Happiness works like a thermometer telling us how we feel rather than who we are. It is constantly fluctuating based on the environment and circumstances. On the other hand, joy is more like a thermostat that is in full control of the temperature of your heart. My hope for us this Christmas season is that we can learn to ween ourselves from our addiction to happiness and become a people who are known for their joy. I want to give you three things you can do to cultivate the Joy of the Lord in your life this Christmas season.
- Someone to Love
To cultivate joy in your heart, first set your affections more on Jesus. Spend more purposeful and deliberate time loving Jesus this season. Take more walks, talk to him more, pray and praise Him while you are waiting in long lines, or sing to him in your car. Something great happens to our hearts when God becomes the apex of our affection. Jesus understood this about you when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). Christmas is a difficult season for many of us, and I want to remind you that the Joy of the Lord is our strength and that it is impossible to thrive apart from Him this season.
- Something to Do
Jesus has long modeled what many mental health experts advise. He modeled what we Christians call “Servanthood.” He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” When you serve other people, you enter into their world, and it reminds you that your issues are not the center of the universe. You see people thriving in situations worse than yours, and it helps you understand that your circumstances do not dictate your joy. When you have a mission to accomplish, you are willing to endure hardship so much better. M. Scott Peck tells a story of a woman who was struggling with severe depression who, by accident, began serving hospital patients while waiting hours for an emergency session with the famed mental health worker. Bored out of her mind, Peck suggested she visit each room in the hospital and ask how people were and if they needed anything. At the end of the day, to her surprise, she found that she no longer needed her emergency session because there was an overwhelming joy found in serving others. You are never more like Jesus than when you serve.
- Something to Hope For
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus modeled hope best, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Jesus could endure the cross because of the hope of joy on the other side of it. Viktor Frankl observed that the people who were able to survive and thrive (despite enduring horrible atrocities like the holocaust) were twofold. First, they had a realistic assessment of the situation they were in, no matter how bad. Second, they had a relentless hope that things would get better. You are a hope-based creature, and what you hope in will determine the amount of joy you have. Take time to set your heart on heaven and the hope it will bring in your life circumstances today. Reset your heart to believe that all your hope can be found in eternity with Christ.
I have no better way to conclude this thought than the way Paul summarizes it in all of Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV