How would you describe the mood of our world today? Which word or words would you use to describe that mood? Anxious, fearful, stressed, gloomy? My guess is that you would use all these words, particularly gloomy.
So what is one of the world’s most pressing needs? Joyful people!
A few years ago, my wife and I were in Boston and visited Trinity Church. In earlier days, the church had a renowned pastor named Phillips Brooks. During his pastorate there, a Boston newspaper once printed this item: “The day was dark and gloomy but Phillips Brooks walked down newspaper row and all was bright.” That’s the idea.
Thus, we see the relevancy of Paul’s words. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). But it is a special kind of joy that possesses Paul. It is a joy independent of earthly circumstances — independent of good health or desired comforts or big successes. Paul has none of these things. As a matter of fact, Paul’s health is bad and he’s writing these words from a Roman prison cell.
So how can Paul possibly be joyful and wish his listeners joy? The answer, of course, is that he doesn’t wish us joy; he wishes us joy in the Lord. And that’s something quite different.
First, joy is rooted in a vibrant faith. The late Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald reported that some years ago a train stopped somewhere in Southern Georgia to take on water for the engine. A man on the train saw a local old-timer leaning against the depot platform, and he yelled at him.
“Anybody around here enjoy religion?”
The old-timer shuffled his feet and replied, “Them that has it does!”
Though the language here is poor, the theology is correct. It is being suggested that joy is rooted in the inner quality of our relationship with God, and not in any external circumstances.
Plain and simple, joy is the result of our being loved by God. As someone observed, “When God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness penetrates through our thick layer of self-negation, we begin to feel joyful.” And to continually overcome our negative self-image, we need a constant reminder of how much God loves us. That reminder is the cross.
It has been stated that “joy is the flag that flies over the castle of the human heart when the king is in residence there.”
Second, joy results when we keep our eyes riveted to the present. Two Harvard psychologists conducted a study of 5,000 people. They discovered that adults spend about 50 percent of their time in the present moment. In other words, we are mentally checked out of the present moment about half the time. From the same study, the psychologists also discovered that when we are in the present moment, we are the happiest, no matter what we are doing.
To be sure, life has what I’m calling “joy cloggers,” and these “joy cloggers” will rob us of our joy 100 percent of the time if we don’t get rid of them. They will continually rob us of our joy by easing into our thoughts and reminding us of our troublesome past or our uncertain future.
Several of these bothersome “joy cloggers” are fear, resentment, prejudice and regret. To understand, let’s take fear as an example. Fear is when we allow the great unknowns to paralyze us. Fear is the opposite of faith and keeps whispering in our ears that our God is little and inadequate. Fear also causes us to forget — to forget what Jesus has accomplished and how present and good God is.
I hope you will underline it. Joyful people stay riveted to the present.
Third, joy is a choice. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” Years before Paul, the writer of Proverbs observed, “For as a person thinks in his heart so is he” (proverbs 23:7). Think joy. Be joyful.
Alice Freeman Palmer, an early president of Wellesley College, had a “Happiness Club” composed of girls in the poorest section of Boston. The girls asked how to be happy, and Mrs. Palmer gave them the following rules which she observed herself and said must be faithfully followed each day.
1. Commit something good to memory each day.
2. Look for something beautiful each day.
3. Do something kind for someone every day.
If we follow these same rules persistently, they will not only produce happiness, but joy as well. Think joy. Live joy. Be joyful. The choice is ours.
The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.