I can’t believe how fast this Advent season is going. We are already in the midst of the third week; the week of joy. This is the week of Advent when we are being called to join the Shepherds as they rejoice at the arrival of the newborn king, the long promised Messiah. If I were one of the Shepherds, I would be the first one to join the chorus of Angels. I would get swept away in the moment. I love the emotion of happiness. But that feeling, that feeling of happiness, actually has little to do with joy.
I am really good at getting swept up in happiness.
I have to fight hard for joy
And my enemy?
It’s natural that we would think that the opposite of joy is sadness or depression. I haven’t found that to be the case. In my life the opposite of joy is discontentment.
Let me explain.
A lot of us have pondered the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling. That feeling changes depending on our circumstances. When life is going the way that we want, we feel happy. When life is not going the way we planned, we aren’t happy. We feel sad. At times we may even become depressed. Our feelings change in accordance to our circumstances.
Based on my research, joy isn’t based on circumstances. It is a state of mind. I found the most clear definition of joy in Theopedia. It defines joy as “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart, It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.” Joy is a state of mind. It is characterized by contentment, confidence and hope.
More often than I would like to admit, joy is not my state of mind, discontentment is. My emotions change based on my changing circumstances just like everyone else. Then as soon as I exit the roller coaster of emotions and settle back into status-quo, my state of mind is not one of contentment, confidence and hope. I am full of regret, wishing, and longing for more.
Recently, I have decided that I am tired of my status-quo. I no longer want my baseline to be discontentment. I have wasted too many days being discontent. I want to fall back into joy.
The ideal is compelling but the change feels daunting. I can change my emotions by simply changing my circumstances. But how do I change my status-quo from a mindset of discontentment to a place of joy?
By no means am I an expert, but let me share a few things I am trying.
First, I am trying to remember that Joy is a fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control …” So when I am struggling to maintain a mindset of joy, the first question I need to ask is, “What is keeping me from experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit?” I have written a full blog series on it, (What is the Holy Spirit anyway?). When we are not exemplifying the fruit of the spirit, there are some very basic questions we should be asking God and ourselves. “God, reveal the state of my heart. Is there a sin that is keeping me from the fullness of your presence?” Pride? Selfish ambition? “What unrepentant sins are keeping me from seeing clearly?” He wants nothing more than for us to be in line with him. If we humbly go before him, I promise you he will reveal the true condition of your heart.
Second, I’m asking him to fill me with joy. Full contentment in him is his original design. John 16:24 tells us “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” We have access to complete joy, we just need to ask. He will meet you there.
And as I do those things, I am trying to follow the example of the Shepherds. Luke 2 tells us that after after meeting baby Jesus “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” They met Jesus and then…
Worship has become my biggest weapon against a mindset of discontent.
It has been the key in my journey to shift my mindset from discontentment to joy. I find myself going through a similar cycle several times a day. When I feel like I’m settling into discontentment – I pause. I ask God what is preventing me from experiencing joy. I ask him to fill me with joy. He meets me. Then I worship.
In the last few months as I have been in my own season of Advent, of waiting – I quickly spiral into discontented thinking. I can’t always stop what I am doing and listen to worship music or sing out loud. I’m so grateful that there isn’t just one way to worship. A lot of times for me it does mean turning on worship music and singing along. But sometimes it means just repeating a few lines of a song over and over in my head, even in the midst of conversation. Sometimes it means simply acknowledging the beauty around me. But whatever it takes, I raise my weapon of worship against discontentment.
I am then brought back to a place of joy. Sometimes I don’t stay in that place very long, some days all I manage to have is a mindset of joy for only an hour or two. But being there gives me the strength I need. So that when I start to feel discontent again, I’m ready to fight and I’m armed with my weapon.
So let’s go humbly before God and ask him to reveal our hearts. Let’s go meet the newborn king. Then let’s arm ourselves, raise our weapons high and join the chorus of angels singing…
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies…
Light and life to all he brings
Risen with healing in his wings…
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
May you be filled with joy this Christmas,