Once when a friend and I were heading toward the same door at church, she called our in her usual cheery voice, “Good morning, Barbara! How are you?”
I replied, “Doing okay. How about you?”
“Just okay?” She sounded really dismayed that I wasn’t more than okay.
Well—to my thinking, okay was pretty good. Nothing hurt, nothing was wrong. I’m not an effusive person, so I wouldn’t generally respond in a really excited way unless something spectacular was happening.
For a while, I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t more like my friend. In fact, the thought of always being so enthusiastic sounded exhausting to me. I finally attributed our responses to our very different personalities.
Still, I sometimes wondered if joy was always a bubbling brook, or if it was sometimes a steady undercurrent.
Those thoughts, and the fact that I had read and enjoyed some of Lydia Brownback’s other writings, encouraged me to get her book Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment.
This book is one in a series of “On the Go Devotionals.” Each entry is short, two to three pages in my Kindle app. There are forty-two devotions which concentrate on a different Bible verse about joy.
While we might go through times of sorrow and trial, gloominess and moodiness usually come from “looking at what we lack rather than all we have” (p. 9).
Even those of us going through a season of darkness can pursue joy, trusting that God designed us for it. Sooner or later, in Christ, we will find it. The trick for some of us is to change our self-oriented, worldly focus to Christ, and for others it is to take fresh hold of God’s promises that no matter how dark life seems, he is going to push you out into the light. . .
Our moodiness dishonors God and robs us of the happiness that lies right at our fingertips. If we want to change—to live with perpetual joy—we must pursue it, and in Christ we are guaranteed to find it. (p. 10).
In the very first entry, Lydia declares, “Self-surrender leads to joy” (p. 15). That doesn’t sound very joyful, does it? We think we’d be pretty happy if everything went our way.
We cannot imagine how we will survive without that certain relationship or plan. It feels like death. That’s because it is death. It’s the losing of our lives that Jesus was talking about [in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”].
When we are facing the death of self, the costliness of discipleship, we are likely to pull back unless we remember the promise we have been given about how it will all turn out. The man in Jesus’ parable wound up owning the field. And Jesus said that those who lose their lives—all the earthly things they lean on for happiness and security—will find what they have been looking for all along. God will see to that (pp. 15-16).
I have many more quotes marked than I can share, but here are some that especially stood out to me:
Each trial is a gift. It’s a chance to know God’s strength and supernatural joy and to show that following him is worth everything (p. 24).
It is impossible to keep an eye out for God’s blessings while harboring a complaining spirit (p. 28).
We will never know lasting joy in the Lord if we seek to understand him by what goes on in the world or by our circumstances. The only way to joy is to interpret our circumstances by God’s Word rather than to judge God by our circumstances (p. 40).
Joy is the outworking of worship (p. 43).
We don’t need ten tips to a better spiritual life. What we need is to put God out front in our thoughts, priorities, time, and activities. If we allow his Word to govern us, we will see that he delights to show us “the path of life” and the path for our life (p. 45).
The joy promised in Scripture is different from the joy of personal expectation, our hope of some good thing we want God to do in our lives. While it is natural to hope for a good outcome in our difficulties and to trust God for it, we set ourselves up for a spiritual crisis if we expect that things will work out as we think they should (p. 60).
Joyful feelings are also not a yardstick to be used to determine how well we are doing spiritually. Feelings of closeness to the Lord are a wonderful blessing, but they are not an indicator of God’s acceptance of us. Christ is the only indicator. If we blur the distinction, we are going to worry about our spiritual standing whenever the good feelings aren’t present (p. 60).
God wills that we live in constant expectation of his appearing. We are to look for him in his Word, in his providences in our daily lives, in our sorrows, in our needs, and in our failures. He comes to us in Christ in all these things, but we miss him because we aren’t looking for him (p. 71).
The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us more love or more faithfulness or more joy. He gives us Christ, and as he does, joy and all the rest are produced within us as the fruit of that union (p. 73).
The joy of trials is rarely found in the circumstances of our difficulties. Rather, it is found when we stop fighting against what God is doing and seek his purposes and priorities, which always without exception are designed for our welfare. Whatever the difficulty—even one brought about by our sin—we can leave the outcome in God’s hands (p. 76).
How can we help what we feel? We just can’t muster up joyful feelings; that’s true. But we can rejoice, which sooner or later leads to joyful feelings. Rejoicing is not a feeling. It is joy in action. It is the humble willingness to offer God praise and thanks in all things, regardless of how we feel at the moment (p. 98).
We can experience joy in the Lord despite our circumstances. After reading this book, my thoughts ran to Psalm 43:3-5, a passage Lydia didn’t use:
Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
That passage in turn reminded me of this song, based on this passage. The words and story behind the song are here.