One day before beginning a meeting, a lady gave us all a Thought to Ponder. “Joy is a discipline.”
Hmmmm, whirred my ancient rusty crankshaft of a brain. That doesn’t sound quite right. That bothers me.
But I couldn’t put my finger on why. For days and weeks and months this thought rolled around in my head, popping back up at odd moments.
A discipline. . . . Isn’t that something I know I ought to do, so I do it anyway even though I don’t want to?
Like putting my feet on a cold floor in the morning when I’d rather stay snuggled under the covers. Like getting on the treadmill when I’d rather get on Facebook.
It’s the “ought.” The “should.” Something I order myself to do when inwardly I want to groan.
Of course I want to be a good Christian. And I’m commanded to rejoice. So I’ll grit my teeth and clench my fists. “I will be joyful! I will be joyful!”
But for some reason that doesn’t work.
Isn’t it because . . .well . . . isn’t joy a . . . dare I say it . . . a feeling?
There’s a big difference between a discipline and a feeling. A discipline is forced upon me, by myself or someone else, in order to accomplish some greater goal. Like, “I will be joyful, because God commands me to, and I want to be an obedient Christian.”
Or “I will be joyful because I really want everyone else to know that I’ve got this Christian life thing under control.”
But a feeling. Well, that’s obviously different.
If a teenage bully were to attack your little child, would you begin with something along the lines of, “I will be indignant, even angry, because that’s the correct reaction in a time like this. I think God would be pleased with that. And I want people to see that I react correctly.”
What about if in the middle of the night you awake to smell smoke and see a glow around the edges of your bedroom door. Does your heart start racing because you’ve ordered it to do that? That feeling of apprehension, even fear, was that because you had practiced it? When your feet hit the floor, was that because of many days of discipline?
Right after a very trying experience, persecution and rejection, and having to shake the dust off their feet, the disciples, according to Acts 13:52, “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit.” Was this joy born of discipline? Did they decide together, “Remember, we’re supposed to rejoice in our persecution.” “Oh, that’s right. Come on, everybody, let’s be joyful.” Or did they have an experience and an empowerment that had changed their lives from the inside?
I knew I couldn’t force up joy, like trying to pump water from the bottom of a stagnant pool. I had tried that for a long time, and my lack of success had been remarkable.
All I was doing was faking it. All I was doing was pasting a smile on a face that hid a heart that felt lifeless. And the only people I fooled were the people who were pasting their own smiles on.
I knew I was supposed to do it, even though there was no life behind it. Maybe applying principles would help. Maybe adding more good disciplines, like longer daily prayer and Bible reading, to my list of things to do to become a better Christian, maybe they would help.
Somehow the burden just seemed heavier.
But my friend’s outright statement made me stop in utter confusion. It actually made me step back and analyze all my assumptions about the “requirement” of joy.
Joy as discipline. That isn’t right. Shouldn’t joy happen . . . well . . . naturally? I mean, occurring without effort, according to God’s stated course of His creation? Full to overflowing, like Jesus says in John 15?
And, unlike other emotions—emotions like fear or anger, which can temporarily energize me—joy . . . at least it seemed like it ought to be true . . . joy seemed like it should give me that “alive” feeling of exhilaration. Life more abundant. Like a . . . like a spring. Like a fountain. John 7. Isn’t that what Jesus said?
Joy is a natural outspringing of exhilarating, energizing emotion.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
But isn’t joy a choice just like love? Don’t we discipline ourselves to make the right choices. Just a thought.
Thanks for the thought, Karen! Actually, I think it’s impossible to discipline ourselves into joy, and I think God never intended us to even try to do that. This can be a freeing realization if I then understand that true joy–the emotion, the feeling–really is possible to arise naturally. It also allows no room for the works of the flesh, to try to make it happen ourselves by our own determination.
Some quotes from Ann Voskamp “One Thousand Gifts”
While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving. …
Joy is God and God is joy and joy doesn’t negate all other emotions, it transcends all other emotions.
Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand.
Fullness of joy is only discovered in the emptying of will.
If God, who could have any life of His choosing, finds the most satisfying joy in communion within the Trinity, wouldn’t I?
… these are only glimpses into this remarkable book, a beautifully-written celebration of Jesus, focusing on the rich blessing that thanksgiving brings – clearer vision of Jesus, growing intimacy and desire for Him.
You HAVE to read this book if you have not already!
Thank you, Heidi! I’ll look forward to reading it.
No, it’s not like love. Joy is a noun. Love is a verb. Joy is something you feel. Love is something you do. Therefore, you can choose to do it or not.
Actually, I’m thinking further that our emotions should be under the control of the Holy Spirit so we don’t live on a roller coaster. I know many Christians who have an underlying joy that is constantly visible from their countenance. One of them sang at her husband’s funeral, and the joy was written across her face.
Thanks for the discussion, Karen! Acknowledging that joy is an emotion doesn’t mean that we have to live on an emotional roller coaster, or that it will be impossible for the Holy Spirit to control us. All I’m doing in this first part of the definition is saying yes, it is an emotion, a feeling; it really can’t be anything else. And we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that.
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