I remember years ago (I refuse to admit how many) sitting in church whilst my Dad preached a sermon on joy. We were attending a Presbyterian church at the time and quite a number of those in leadership in the church liked things just the way they were: traditional, ordered and predictable. There wasn’t a lot of room to move, we needed to sing songs out of a certain hymnal and preferably the ones that everyone was familiar and comfortable with. Oh, and they needed to be played on a piano (it would have been an organ if we had one). We could have a few “newer” songs towards the start of the service, but they weren’t the “real” songs, they were more of a concession to the young people in the same way we had a kids talk each week. And we could use a guitar for those, just don’t get too carried away. Then Dad comes along and does this sermon on joy, and how God wants us to be joyful in our lives, including in Church. He even dared to quote some lyrics from the latest Christian pop music of the day (which went over the heads of everyone but the teenagers). I remember knowing how controversial Dad was being and how many of the leaders in the church wouldn’t like it too much. I also remember my Dad relishing the fact that he would be ruffling feathers and enjoying every moment of it.
When I think about joy today, I always remember Dad preaching that sermon, and I can’t help but think that it is still something that would challenge people. Joy as a character trait and a way of life can be a bit of a foreign concept in our culture. We can enjoy things, but living with joy is a whole separate concept. The same goes for the other Fruit of the Spirit I am going to talk about: peace. We can have moments of peace, but actually living with peace as part of our character is often seen as a bit weird. We seem to be expected to live with cynicism, mistrust, and negativity. Murphy’s Law seems to be the overriding expectation in our society, making living with joy and peace as part of our character near impossible. Yet joy and peace are character traits which can help us get through the ups and downs of life. They are two sides of a coin which give us the ability to take the good with the bad and to continue to have hope even in the toughest of times. Without joy and peace, hope feels almost impossible to hold on to, but with them it is almost impossible to lose.
As a character trait, joy is the ability to find the positives in life. Joy helps us to find the glimmers in the darkness. This doesn’t mean that joy makes oblivious to the hard times, or the difficulties people are facing, or immune to grief and loss. What it means is that joy helps us to find hope despite these things, to see a reason to keep going when things seem hopeless. Joy gives us the ability to count our blessings when it would be easier to focus on our challenges. It helps us to focus on potential rather than problems. Joy also helps us to speak hope into other people’s lives, to help them to see possibilities in times of pain and the reasons to keep going when it would be easier to give up. When joy is part of our character it will shine through our lives and provide a light to those around us.
If joy is the light then peace is the stable platform on which it is built. When it is part of our character, peace is what keeps us secure in the challenging times. When the storms of life come, peace is what helps us stay balanced despite the wind and rain. There might be times when we need to bend, but peace is what helps keep us from breaking. Peace in our character gives us the ability to see through the crisis and to know that it too will pass. Peace helps us to keep a steady course through all the ups and downs to help us reach our destination. When we have peace in our character we are able to sit with those who feel that life is out of control and help them to feel calm. We are able to bring a steadying presence to situations that helps people to refocus and keep going. Peace helps establish a foundation that hope can be built on and then progress can be made.
Joy and peace are inseparable parts of a positive, impactful character. Having peace gives us the ability to stay calm when trouble strikes, meaning we are better able to look for the positives and find the hope in the situation through joy. Finding the hope and using our joy to stay focused and see a positive outcomes then fuels our peace to make us ready for the next challenge. In this way these two elements work together to strengthen our character and give us the ability to not only have peace and joy in our own lives, but to share them with those around us. When we work to have joy and peace to be present in our lives and allow these traits to be evident in our words and actions, we put ourselves in a position to impact those around us simply by being present. By choosing joy over cynicism and peace over stress we become people who can bring positivity and calm to any environment and in doing so support those who are struggling.
I know for me lately having peace and joy has been a struggle. Over the past few months work has been hectic and draining, we have had health issues at home as well as a number of other challenges including an unexpected house move. Some of these issues have been compounding each other and there have been times when it all seems like it will never end. I’ll be honest and say that more than once my peace and joy have suffered. But what I’ve realised in writing this blog is that when it comes to having peace and joy in my character isn’t a one-time thing, it’s not something that you just have one day and it stays forever, it’s something that you need to consciously work on. In order to build joy into my character I need to spend more time focusing on my blessings than my difficulties. I need to spend more time being grateful and less time being grumpy. I need to choose joy over just getting by. And in order to have more peace in my life, I need to make the time to slow down. I need to spend more time in prayer and Bible study. I need to trust that things will work out in the end. I need to look back to all the times that God has gotten me through and know that He is not going to stop now.
What about you? How can you get more peace and joy in your life? What are the things you need to take your focus off, and redirect it to? What are the areas where you have allowed circumstance to take away your certainty? How can you make time to focus on your blessings instead of your difficulties? Because I guarantee when you build peace and joy into your life you will find that none of the challenges seem quite so big and you will find that not only does it make an impact in your own life, but also the lives of those around you.