One of the turning points of my life is when I learned to be joyful. Yes, joy is a byproduct of our spiritual life, and the mark of a true follower of Jesus, but we can foster it and we have choices to make. In my Bible reading I realized how many instructions there were about being joyful—it isn’t just automatic for a believer. There are many, many verses about how we are to delight in God, praise Him, thank Him, and rejoice always.
For the Lord takes pleasure in His people…Let the people be joyful…Let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth. (See Psalm 149:4-6.)
Let my mouth be filled with Your praise all the day. (See Psalm 7:8.)
Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! (See Psalm 66:1)
Another revelation to me is that complaining is a sin. I have had to work to break bad habits of complaining and criticizing. In The Scripture commands us (See Phil. 2:14.) to do all things without complaining. Whew! That is a hard one. One day I came across a verse, Numbers 11:20, in which God calls complaining despising the Lord. Yikes!
Have you ever tried to go a day without complaining? Or a week? Try it..it is not so easy!
I took a 17 hour road trip from Washington to California with four teenagers. We had a contest where I gave a ticket to anyone who complained and whoever had the most tickets lost. It was my idea because I thought the time together would be so much more enjoyable if we were not complaining. Guess who lost? Me! I bought the four of them ice-cream to reward them. We still laugh over that one. Hahaha!
Complaining leads to self-pity. Self-pity is just that—a pit. It is just about opposite of joy. As a young Christian in youth group we were assigned prayer partners for one school year. Mine taught me a valuable lesson—turn each complaint into a prayer. This is what we see David did in the Psalms. “I cried unto the Lord…” What happens when we turn complaints into prayers is a very interesting thing. We have to wait. Yes, we then wait on God for answers, so we have to trust Him with our lives and all the things we are unhappy with. When He answers, which He is always faithful to do, the result is…JOY!
In the classic book “The Christians Secret of a Happy Life” the author, Hannah Whitall Smith, repeatedly discusses the choice of happiness. She writes, “It is altogether the way we look at things, whether we think they are crosses or not. I am ashamed to think that any Christian should ever put on a long face…”
Our family home schooled for about fifteen years. We have one daughter, who we named Valerie Joy. (Yes, she is a joy in our lives!) When she was 11 years old she started a magazine for girls and called it “Joyful Heart”. She and I worked on this together and gained subscribers and each month mailed out a few hundred copies. It was a lot of fun researching, writing articles, getting articles and interviews from the subscribers, finding clip art to go with the writings, proofreading, and putting it all together. We xeroxed it at the copy shop with a pink paper cover. Those are happy memories of days long ago now. Joyful Heart Magazine was published for three years from 1999 to 2001. In the end we changed to a quarterly because it was so much work. Here’s a photograph of the 24 issues we published.
In every issue of "Joyful Heart" we included Bible verses, quotes from books, and stories from girls about being joyful. To write on joy today brings back memories of those “Joyful Heart” days. One of the quotes I like, that we published in one of the magazines, is from the life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of “The Little House on the Prairie” books. “If we expect to enjoy our life, we will have to learn to be joyful in all of it…the habit of mind…”
I have found the habit of gratitude and giving God thanks and praise leads to joy. Psalm 100:4 says we enter His gates, (His presence) when we have thanksgiving in our hearts.) In the Message Bible this verse says “THANK YOU is the password to His presence.” My very favorite verse in the Bible (it is actually in two places, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament) is about JOY.
“You show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.” (See Psalm 16:11 and Acts 2:28.)