Ask Webster the definition of joy and you’ll get an explanation along the lines of the experience of great pleasure and the emotion evoked by well-being and success.
Look in the Biblical Hebrew dictionary and you’ll find descriptive words such as: glee, exceedingly, gladness, and rejoicing. Skim the Greek dictionary and you’ll read that joy means cheerfulness, calm and delight.
So which do you prefer? Or do you really know what you want?
As for me, I want to understand joy the way my Creator intended for it to be experienced. I don’t want a fake or faux version of joy. I want the real deal. To truly understand the Creator’s intention behind joy is to understand what it really is.
Most people see joy as something that can be accomplished by materialistic things. Everything has to be going right for others to feel joy, while some people desperately try to find it in others and hope it rubs off. I’m guilty of it all!
Take a look at Galatians 5:22 and we see that joy is the second fruit of the Spirit. That tells me it’s pretty serious and also something that takes some inner work to accomplish.
Oohh, inner work, eh? That’s where it gets deep, my friend. Dealing with the inner of anything is no fun. Why is that? Well, because that means we have to work through layers. But when it comes to joy… you may ask, “what layers are we dealing with before we can truly experience it?”
I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at seven of them and what we can replace them with instead:
I will go as far to say that this is probably the top issue on most people’s list. Scroll any social media platform and you will read complaint after complaint. Listen to conversations when you are out and about and you will hear ongoing complaining.
The President is blah, blah, blah. The weather is too hot… too cold… to sticky… etc. So-and-so did this or that to so-and-so. Prices of (fill in the blank) are too high. People’s jobs are becoming increasingly difficult. And so on.
Now turn it inward. What do you see within yourself?
How much do you complain?
What are you complaining about?
Why are you complaining?
Who are you complaining to?
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to make it all about you because this is just as much for me as it is for you. Honestly, I complain all the time. I complain about not having enough. I complain about being a mom, a wife, and not measuring up to Mrs. Proverbs 31 over there.
Sadly, the people who get the wrath of complaints are the ones who least need to hear it — my husband and children. (Ouch!)
So what are we going to do about this layer of complaining?
For starters, let’s talk to James. James 1:2-3 says My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the proving of your belief works endurance.
That’s enough to chew on right there. Instead of seeing situations through the lens of what’s wrong with them, our brother James suggests that we immediately count it all joy.
And just in case we don’t quite comprehend how to do that, apparently it’s attached to wisdom because he goes on to say If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of Elohim, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it shall be given (James 1:5).
Dwelling on the Past
If you think we are the only ones dealing with dwelling on the past, let’s take a quick look at some folks from history… the Israelites to be exact. It wasn’t soon after their deliverance from captivity before they started to dwell on the past. They were released but for some reason began dwelling on how “good” they had it.
The food was better. The living arrangements were better. All at the expense of being slaves and mistreated.
Hhmm… sound familiar? Perhaps it’s not the exact same situation, but the heart of the matter is surely the same. How many times have you thought, “things were much better when… if I had only… if I could go back and…”?
Now be totally honest with yourself. Would going back really change anything? Shoot, I’ve caught myself dwelling on the past way more than I should. And for what? Because I’m too chicken to face what is and what is reality? Most likely.
It’s realizing that I don’t have the control I need over my emotions or else I’d be able to have an experience without immediately having to dwell on what led me there in the first place… usually my past.
Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell us that although he hasn’t “arrived”, he forgets what is behind and reaches out for what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). You see, Paul let us in on a little secret… if we are focused on what lies ahead, that is what we will strive for.
If we are focused on what lies behind, that is what we will strive for. So it’s ultimately our choice. Dwell on the past or reach for what lies ahead.
Oohh, this is too easy… to do, that is. How many times have you caught yourself saying, “if my Mama (or Daddy) would have… if my teachers would have… if my childhood was different then I would be…”? Mmh-hmm.
We’ve all been there, and some of us are still swimming in that pool of blaming others. I take a dip it in every once in awhile, and then I realize the reality is that I’m not taking responsibility for whatever I’m going through.
It relieves something in me for the moment to make the notion that my upbringing should’ve been different. Or my friends should have made better choices, then maybe I would have too.
Nope. The [sad] reality is I cannot blame anyone else for my thoughts, actions, and feelings. And let’s face it… when we do that, we are giving an incredible amount of power to others over our lives.
We see our first blame game in Genesis. And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Would things have been different had Adam said, “You know what. I messed up and I take full responsibility for choosing to eat that fruit.”? Probably not, but it would make for a much harder case when it comes to blaming others.
So instead of being quick (or slow) to blame others… let’s take responsibility, and handle whatever consequences come from it.
This is right up there with complaining, isn’t it? The first word is really the root of all the things we have discussed so far — negative. Some people think positive self-talk has to be in the form of chants, mantras, conscious language, and so on… and while this could be partly true, the biggest piece in the positive self-talk puzzle is the thought process piece.
My husband will be the first to tell you that you can recite all the positive affirmations you want, but until your thoughts truly line up with what you’re saying, you won’t see much difference in your actions.
So where does this negative self-talk come from? While it can certainly be a combination of things, our thought patterns have the most play in what we say (and think) about ourselves. Yahweh Himself warns us of this in Scripture:
“For as he reckons in his life, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). This is most often translated as as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Either way, it is plain as day that what we think about ourselves is inevitably what we are or who we become.
I remember going through drug and alcohol recovery and telling myself that I was a “recovering drug addict and alcoholic”. That left so much room for me to slip up and take a drink or smoke, all in the name of “recovering”.
I came to a point where I no longer identified as that… but changed what I said (and thought) to, “I am healed from the addictions”. This left no room for a slip up because how could I if I were healed from it?! See my point?
And because we are human and will battle with occasional negative self-talk, Philippians sheds some light on what we can replace those negative thoughts with: whatever is noble, righteous, clean, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). Not to mention, there are countless Scriptures that align with whatever stinkin’ thinkin’ you need help replacing.
Think you were a mistake? Jeremiah 1:5
Think there was a problem with how you were created? Psalm 139:13
Think there is no hope? Job 11:18
Think your situation is impossible? Luke 1:37
I could go on and on… but you get the picture. Ditch the negative self-talk!
Resistance to Change
Ooh, this is another hard layer. Why? For starters, change can be stressful… even if it was anticipated or planned for. Resistance may be a natural part of human nature, but I believe it mostly has something to do with habit.
Do anything for an extended period of time and it becomes a habit. Try to break that habit and you’ll see (really quick) how resistant you may become to actually following through with changing that habit.
On the other hand, change is something that can be considered inevitable. When we are born, we don’t stay infants. When we mature to adulthood, we still experience phases of growth and maturity.
Change is going to happen regardless. The question then becomes, how can we develop an acceptance toward change?
This is another biggie for me. On one hand, I’ll shout almost to a protest that I want and desire change in certain areas of life. On the other hand, the tongue in my mouth is moving in a different direction than the tongue in my shoe. Cache 22, eh? Yeah it is.
This is another issue where Scripture couldn’t be more clear. We told to embrace change, so to speak, by being transformed by the renewing of our mind (also great for self-talk)…. and to not lose heart because our inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Change also comes in the form of going through the fire and being pruned by the Gardener. Either way, it is our attitude of acceptance that will help us embrace any change we encounter.
Seeking/Needing the Approval of Others
Psychology will tell you that this type of issue branches from a number of things, most of it branching from childhood. However, earlier we talked about not blaming others, which also includes not dwelling on the past. Regardless, the focus should be on the fact that there is only one approval that matters — Yahweh’s approval.
There is a Scripture that trumps any and every thought about seeking and/or needing the approval of others:
“For do I now persuade me, or Elohim? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I should not be a servant of Messiah” (Galatians 1:10).
Simply put, no, you do not need the approval of others. The very definition of approval involves officially agreeing to something or accepting something as satisfactory. With this in mind, we can see how damaging it is to seek and need the approval of others because there will always be someone who does not approve of what you are doing.
The best thing to do is align what you are doing with the Word of Yahweh, then you’ll know for sure that you are pleasing the One who matters most!
Doubting YHVH’s Plans for your Life
I still can’t figure out why I struggle with this. I was talking to my husband about it not too long ago, and I think I have finally scratched the surface of my issue with it… I believe it has something to do with how I am perceiving victory and loss.
What I mean is if something is going “wrong” in my life, I assume it’s because I’ve made a bad or wrong choice of plans. If things are going “right”, then I assume that all choices and decisions must have been the right plan.
I have to remind myself that although there tangible ways to gauge good and/or bad plans, nothing can come against what Yahweh says in the famously quoted Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I am planning for you, declares Yahweh, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a future an an expectancy.”
Commit your works to Yahweh, and your plans shall be established (Proverbs 16:3). And when this is done, we have reminders such as Psalm 20:4 – He does give you according to your heart, and fills all your plans. Of course this is in the proper context of having a heart and desires aligned with His Word!
We don’t have to doubt Yahweh’s plans for our life if they are in alignment. It may seem difficult to know if the plans we make are of Him or ourselves, but that’s where Scripture, prayer, and counsel come into play. We can’t go wrong with that!
It’s not always easy to nip these seven things in the bud and never experience them again… but we should become so well-equipped to facing them that when they arise, they are no longer a challenge to overcome.
I believe as long as we have breath in our bodies, we are not excluded from experiencing any of it… however, it is how we handle it that will be the true indicator of if we choose to cast them down and experience joy – or not.
We can surely have joy in the midst of going through any of the seven layers discussed. Of course in the moments that we are choosing to give into them, we are not choosing joy, but it doesn’t mean that joy isn’t there waiting for us.
We just have to make the conscious choice to lay those layers down, replace them with the Word, and choose joy above it all.
CHIME IN: which of these do you struggle with most? What advice or wisdom would you like to share that has helped you overcome things that attempt to hinder your joy?
Until next time, blessings-