Hebrews 12:1–3 (NIV)
… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Augustine claimed that "without exception ... all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy." We all want joy – but joy is elusive for many. Part of the problem is that we mistake joy for pleasure. We think joy will be found in money, or a good joy, or security, or significance, or good relationships, or good health. If you believe what is advertised on television, you think that your joy will spring from having the right car, the right phone, or the best beer. If you believe the magazine stands it is about having the right body, or the right kind of sex, or the right relationship. If you believe these things then that is where you will focus your pursuit of joy.
But joy is a healthy, flourishing soul. Joy is when things are good on the inside whether or not life is good on the outside. That kind of health comes from Jesus. If things are healthy on the inside, pleasure will be more pleasurable. If your soul is not healthy, pleasure will not make it healthy. Pleasure does not bring joy. People who live from a platform of joy respond to life appropriately. Happy things make them happy, and sad things make them sad, but deep down they know they are flourishing.
So, how do we begin to see our soul’s flourish? How do we make a pilgrimage towards joy? Here are 6 ways to journey towards joy.
1. Pursue a strong connection with God (John 15:1-8)
Your soul will flourish as your connection with God flourishes. Remember, joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit. A by-product of have the Spirit of God at work in our life is that He produces joy. (and love and peace, etc.) You won’t find joy by pursuing joy directly. Joy, (a healthy flourishing soul that you live out of) comes from abiding in Christ. It comes from the life of Christ in you.
2. Eliminate the joy stealers. (Gal 5:19-21)
There are a whole lot of things that can rob you of your joy. Bitterness, anger, hatred, judgmentalism, idolatry, debauchery, will steal your joy. They may give you pleasure for a moment, but they will kill your soul. – Is it really worth a joyless life to indulge in those things?
If you have been holding onto those kinds of attitudes for a while, then it will be a journey to allow God to free you of those things – but the journey is so worth it. If you waste you mind space (and your life) on those kind of things you are going to waste opportunities for joy.
3. Cultivate gratitude. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul was in prison when he wrote the book of the Philippians. The theme of the verse is rejoicing in the Lord. There is something about gratitude that supercharges our pursuit of joy.
Ann Voskamp, on a friend’s dare to write down a thousand things that made her happy, found as she put it, “God in the moment. Why hadn't I realized that joy was right in the middle of life, unlocked in the moments? Where did I think it should be? After all, it's only moments that make up a life.” She goes on to say that joy isn’t somewhere else, but in the small things.”
Research has shown that people are 25% happier if they keep a gratitude journal than if they don’t. When you cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving, and you start to notice your blessings, it has a way of releasing us into joy.
4. Don’t accept substitutes for joy. (Luke 10:38-42)
There will be many good things in your life that you will be tempted to substitute for the best thing. You can get so focused on good things – things like ministry, or family, or the creative process – that you forget the best thing. Keep the main thing the main thing – God who speaks health and life into your soul.
I have found it easy to focus on the ministry, or on people, or on study, and miss God himself. Martha was busy trying to feed people – but Jesus commended Mary for just being with him and listening to him.
5. Be single minded in your pursuit.
Going back to Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1–2 (NIV)
… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,
There is perseverance required for the journey. But fix your eyes on Jesus. There is a race to be run a pilgrimage to be taken so fix you eyes on Jesus. Jesus for joy, endured the cross. You, for joy, pursue the God who brings joy. Do what you need to do to get your soul healthy and make it flourish.
6. Pray for Joy
It seems silly to want something that God wants for us, and not pray for it. As we pray for it, God has a way of showing our next step on the pilgrimage. – So put joy on your prayer list. Ask God for it, and keep on ask him until it is yours.
ConclusionJoy is worth pursuing. A healthy flourishing soul that is receiving its nourishment from God can be the platform from which we live life. Romans 14:17 (NIV) says, “ For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” This platform of joy is part of your inheritance as one of God’s people. Make a pilgrimage towards joy.