Maintaining Joy in Every Situation, Part I
by Mike Sackmary
The Bible is no empty word for us but it is our very life. God says in the Bible that He set eternity in the hearts of men. This means that each of us, whether we are Christian or not, have a desire to believe that there is something better and beyond this present life. After living through various circumstances and experiences, we may choose to believe that there is no afterlife, but that thought is rooted in some past cause. It is not a thought which occurs to us naturally. What does occur to us naturally is that there is an afterlife. This is a seed which God planted in our hearts.
The key to maintaining joy in every situation is to keep our focus on the true afterlife. God promises that every person who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior will be with Him in paradise forever. Some opponents of Christianity have raised various objections to this truth. The most common objections have been answered in my paper ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ’. For purposes of this article we will proceed with the understanding that every human being has to make the choice between becoming a Christian and going to heaven, or rejecting God and going to eternal torment.
There is a cost required of every Christian who wishes to live an effective, God-pleasing and joyful life. The cost is that we must be willing to submit our stubborn selves under the Lordship of Jesus. This means we study the Bible, we participate in a local church, we give of our resources and we chase our mission of preaching the Gospel and making disciples. A joyful Christian life is rooted in the concrete foundation of the love we have for the Lord.
Love is not enough by itself. This is because love must have an object, a purpose, a direction and a goal. The object of our love is the Lord. He created the heavens and the earth. He gave human beings a free will, which Adam the first human decided to use to rebel against God. Sometimes we may be tempted to blame God because bad things happen. We should remember that without the ability to make bad decisions we would not be free beings. With the ability to make decisions comes the responsibility to make good decisions and the accountability to suffer the results of bad decisions.
The purpose of our love for God is to prepare us, over the course of our lives, for our entry into heaven. Yes the Creator of the entire universe cares that much about you. We are born with a tendency to sin. Once we reach the age of awareness we begin to lie, steal and break many of God’s commandments. We sin. We all sin. The only person who never sinned was Jesus. He is one-of-a-kind, being 100% human and 100% God at the same time. This brings us to the mystery of the Triune God. The Lord describes Himself as existing as one God in three persons (Father, Jesus the Son, Holy Spirit). God never explains exactly how this works, which is why we call it a unique method of existence. Think about the reality that this is the God who not only loves you, but who gives you the capacity to love.
I must confess to a rather unmanly trait. I love my cat. Spock has been with me for nineteen years. That is longer than some marriages. Why do I love my cat? I did not create him. I certainly do not get any work out of him. I love him because he is a lot of fun and he is always waiting to greet me when I come home. But where does my capacity to love come from?
Our capacity to love comes from God Himself. He is the author, creator and prime source of love. In the Bible the word love is used as both a verb and a noun. The love we are given from God is a verb. He loves us continually and forever. Thus the first step to maintaining joy is to ingest and feed upon this concept. God’s love is continual and eternal. Let that course through your bones for a while until you are soaked from the inside out in the radiance of His all-consuming love for His children. But do not be fooled, God says that only those who are Christians (and all the Old Testament believers who died before the Resurrection of Jesus) are His children. Non-Christians are not called the children of God until they become Christians. The purpose of our love is to keep us motivated and excited about living our lives in a way that shines the light of God into this world, while God prepares us for our entry into paradise.
The direction of our love is upward and outward. Upward in worship to God. Outward toward our fellow humans. As Christians we want to use our unique personalities to show God’s love for other people. By sharing the good, by doing random acts of kindness, by being there to listen and not try to ’fix’ everything, by standing up for the helpless and defending the weak we spread the good of God around the globe.
The temporary goal of our love for God is to win souls for the kingdom. No one becomes a genuine Christian solely because of logical argument or emotional appeals. The unsaved become Christians by one method, they respond with a ‘yes God’ when they hear the Gospel. The Gospel only comes to a person by the preaching of the Word of God. No one method is used for this preaching. It is done one-to-one, it is done in big churches, it is done in the open air on the street, it is done in prisons, it is done when a Christian is about to be murdered by terrorists, it is done when a student shares the Gospel with an atheist teacher. Preaching the Gospel happens in more ways and places than any one of us can even count. One of the most wide-reaching methods is expositional preaching from the pulpit of a church.
Now that we’ve seen a brief survey of the purpose, goal, direction and object of our love let us see how we can turn these concepts into useful every day practices which will allow us to maintain joy.
Bad situations. This category of challenges includes anything that happens which was not caused by ourselves or by other people. These are occurrences such as flooded houses, tornadoes, cancer and so forth. The most dangerous aspect of dealing with this type of problem is to assume that we are being punished. Certainly there are passages in the Old Testament where God purposely causes these types of scenarios. But every time He does so, there is also an explanation as to why He does it and a corresponding opportunity for people to repent and get relief from the Lord.
The key to maintaining joy in bad situations is to first ask God if there is any unconfessed sin in our life. If He brings anything to mind confess and repent immediately. Beyond asking that question, be glad for what went right. You are still breathing. You did not lose everything. And God certainly has placed Christians in your path who would love to help you. Use that resource, let God’s children walk alongside you.
Bad people. This is a real sore point. Maybe I should skip this topic….or not. The trick here is to ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’. If we make the mistake of judging the person then we fall into extremely negative thinking. This is accompanied by hatred, anger, more hatred, stress, ongoing hatred. You get the idea that that person needs to have their (insert your own word here) removed. Then we start thinking that the bad person needs to die. It is easy for our minds to become clouded to the point where we think of ourselves as righteous judges instead of recognizing the reality that God is the only Righteous Judge.
How to maintain clarity of thought and cleanness of heart? First, if the bad person’s actions were illegal, then press charges. Let the law enforcement professionals deal with the crime. If the actions were immoral or unethical then decide if it is worth your time and energy to sue them. Be aware the Jesus advised us to not sue other Christians but to do our best to work it out directly with them. By getting the question of crime and lawsuits settled, you prepare your mind for the next step.
To achieve clarity of thought and cleanness of heart, step back from passing judgment on the person. It is not reasonable to assume the motives of another. What we are called to judge is the action. We can and should say ‘that was wrong and it hurt’. We can and should vent our anger and pain to the Lord. We can and should cry out to our Christian friends and let them pray for us. Pain is overcome by love and love comes from God through other Christians.
God judges sin. He will deal with the bad person on His terms and in His timing. Dwelling upon the evil person will only cause us more pain. It keeps our wounds bleeding and prevents us from enjoying life. Take the right path, Maintain joy by letting your brothers and sisters love you and go do good works for others. Get rid of your anger by bringing out your love for God.
One word about forgiveness. The Bible never says that we are to forgive those who do not ask for our forgiveness. Sometimes misguided Christians might say “Oh just forgive that person.” This does not work. What does work is to say “Here God, you have my pain and give me something good to go do for others.”
The reality might seem upside-down to us, but here it is – God promised that every Christian would have some suffering in this life, and that everything works together for the good of those who love Christ. My form of suffering may be different than yours, but together we help one another maintain joy because we know that God has a greater purpose for letting us suffer. This is a reality which many anti-Christians cannot accept. The one whose mind is rooted in self-love says “What the heck?” The one whose mind is rooted in Christian love says “This stinks, and I have no idea why it happened, but I know that I can trust God with my soul, so I can also trust Him with this mess." Choose joy over anger.
Self-generated problems. Ouch. Maintaining joy is quite difficult in these situations. Our tendency is to blame others, and even to blame God. A homosexual catches a disease and says “God made me this way.” A man cheats on his wife and says “God made that other woman so beautiful and so available.” A pastor copies a sermon from someone else and says “I don’t have time to prepare sermons.” Whatever your personal problems are, check to see if they are self-generated. The great thing about these types of problems is that the behavior does not have to be repeated. Begin to attain joy by creating a commitment card. On the card you write down in present tense a statement that negates the undesired behavior. “I am celibate.” “I am faithful.” “I seek the Lord’s message for every sermon.” Keep that card in your wallet and look at it whenever you pay for something. Then think about the price Jesus paid for your soul.
Maintaining joy in every situation is like exercising a muscle. The more we do it, the better results we see. The better results we see the more we want to keep doing it. What are the results? Peace, patience, joy, love. If you want these features to be part of who you are, then practice the discipline of having joy in every situation. It is far better than any alternative way of life.