Living Joyfully

By Angie Lombardo

I have a question for you. Are you happy?

There are people who, for a fee, are quite willing to teach you to be happy. In fact, I read about a man who began a business to coach people on how to be happy. He says that people have to come to a decision that they will not take all the hassles that the world throws at them. His Website says, “Option Institute: Emotional Fitness Training. Creating Personal Happiness and peace of mind—RIGHT NOW. Cost: $500.”

So, people have to decide that they are going to be happy. Would that it was that easy. In the words of the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is that all that it is? You just decide to be happy? Don’t accept all the stuff that the world lays on you. Just be happy. But it isn’t that easy, is it?

People seem to be clamoring for happiness. We live in a world in chaos that causes a lot of stress. We want to be happy. But what makes people happy?

Empower conducted a study on happiness and found that 60% of adults believe in the ability of money to bring happiness.

It may be helpful to distinguish between happiness and joy. Are they the same or is there a distinction between the two?

Happiness often depends on the circumstances of life. If things are going well, one is happy. The Latin translation of the word happiness is FORTUNA, a word related to chance or luck. So if you are lucky—you may receive a large inheritance from a family member and that will make you happy. Or, what if you win the lottery. Boy! Are you ever lucky and happy, [for a little while anyway].

But joy, in the Biblical sense, comes out of a living and abiding relationship with God. We cannot manufacture true joy on our own. When you trust Christ, that relationship with Him will result in joy, a deep, lasting and powerful joy that is not dependent upon our circumstances. When we abide in Christ, He promises to fill us with His joy. Jesus says in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”

In Galatians 5:22, the apostle Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s gift to us. Joy is something that God provides, not something that we work up within us. When I realized it is what God does in me, I was set free. “You have put more joy in my heart.” Psalm 4:7

So, happiness depends on circumstances, while we can have joy in spite of circumstances.

I want to encourage you to believe that it is possible for you to experience a life of joy.

Paul was in prison when he penned Philippians and yet he mentions joy or rejoice no less than 16 times. God graced him with supernatural, abounding joy. Think of it, Paul was joyful in spite of being in a dirty, disgusting, dungeon. The joy of the Lord was in his heart. We, too, can have this joy. I’m not saying that there will never be circumstances that challenge us. We are not promised a life of ease. So, how can we navigate the difficult, stormy times of life?

First, understand that the enemy of our soul wants to steal our joy. Never underestimate the devil. Paul tells us to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Satan is a formidable foe and we must realize that we are in a spiritual battle.

One of the ways the devil steals our joy is through anxiety or worry. If we are honest, every single person has struggled with the problem of anxiety. It is a common problem. I wish I could say that I never worry but I’ve learned that we can have more victories than defeats and victory is found in God’s Word.

Paul addresses this in Philippians 4:6a by saying, “Do not be anxious (or worried) about anything.”

The word worry is from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to choke or to strangle”.  It is mental strangulation through stress and fear and you feel paralyzed. You think, what if something bad happens to my family or I lose my job or my children go astray. All sorts of unwelcome thoughts swirl through your head.

Paul has the audacity to say, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we are not to worry about anything. Anything that causes us to worry is wrong thinking (mind), and wrong feeling (heart, emotions).

 In Philippians 4:6b, Paul further spells out in clear terms what to do about the anxiety.

 First, the problem is addressed by prayer and Paul uses three terms to describe praying: “In everything, by prayer (general prayer, worship, adoration), supplication (earnest asking) with thanksgiving, (appreciation), make your requests known to God.” Tell God what you are worried about. Spread it out before Him. Talk to Him about how you are feeling. It doesn’t matter that He already knows, but it helps you to connect with Him.

So, when anxiety comes, think of it as a screaming alarm, telling you it is time to talk to God about the situation that worries you. Anxiety can create an opening for prayer. When praying, realize though, that your natural inclination is to be in control. Let’s say you are worried about one of your children, whatever concern that may be. You pray and suggest to God how He could (should?) answer your prayer. I’m not saying we’re telling God what to do, but it sure seems like we are. Instead, admit your helplessness in the situation because we really are helpless! Let God do His work in that child’s life because God is a loving God and knows what is best. He controls every aspect of life. He knows all about it. Why not allow the anxieties and worries to catapult you to prayer. When you give it over completely to God, you will shift from worry to watching what God will do.

After all, worry is like a rocking chair, you’re moving but getting nowhere.

Second, worry is addressed by God’s provision and that provision is the cross of Christ.  Turn your eyes on Jesus, not your circumstances. Turn your eyes on Jesus, not on yourself. When I dwell on my problems, it’s easy to have a pity party and get depressed. When I look to Jesus and claim His promise that He will never leave me or forsake me, I am given strength to see me through day. God is the designer of your life and looking to the cross of Christ helps you to stand firm in the faith. As time goes on, you will see Him at work in your life, and faith and trust in Him grows and matures.

After 50 years in ministry together, The Husband and I have faced many challenges that almost seemed insurmountable. In the summer of 2000, one of our daughters was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and would not live to see Christmas. I’m thrilled to say that she is still living 24 years later. Then in 2020, another daughter had a very serious case of West Nile Virus that went up her spine into her brain and almost killed her. She was in the hospital for 6 months, and the neurologist said that she likely would never fully recover and always be in a nursing home. I’m happy to report that she is having an exceptional recovery. God is good. I realize that some of you are facing even worse situations. Remember, God is good and in control of your situation.

During our dark days, something wonderful happened. “And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7. God gave us peace. Our problems weren’t miraculously solved overnight, but in spite of everything, God’s peace surrounded us.

It is possible that God may not take away all of our problems, but I can assure you that God will take you through the storms of life. He will walk beside you in times of trouble. The Lord can use the storms of life to drive us to Christ. It’s amazing how much time we have for God when we are desperate!

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

 There are 8,810 promises in the Bible. Proverbs 30:15 says, “Every word of God proves true...” So, when we face hardships and challenges in this life, claim God’s promise to bring us through the trials. If God says it, He will do it. He cannot lie. Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

Remember what I said about the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness depends on circumstances. BUT we can have joy in spite of circumstances.

There was a woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was hospitalized, undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. She was a shining witness for Jesus. The nurse attending her wrote on her chart as a critical comment: “The patient is inappropriately joyful.”

Dear ones, I urge you to be inappropriately, and exuberantly joyful. Draw on God’s power, through thick or thin, through the ups and downs of life, because joy is not determined by what happens to you. The Lord’s joy will fill your hearts even if your eyes are filled with tears.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice” Philippians 4:4.