I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulty and uncertainty of life. There is great turmoil in our nation surrounding political and social issues. There are serious questions about the future for those of us who are people of faith. Looking around, I see a great deal of pain and suffering. I know many people that deal with chronic and constant pain. Many others are struggling with pain from relationships or some other emotional pain. The reality of life is that it can be difficult and painful and often can leave one discouraged.
In contrast, I also know that the Christian life is meant to be a life of joy. Peter writes that believers in Christ are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Paul prayed for the church to be filled “with all joy…” (Romans 15:13). The psalms talk about singing and shouting with joy. Unfortunately, there are times that I wonder, “How exactly is that possible?”
Though life’s experience may cause me to question the reality of having joy despite the difficulties in life, my understanding of God’s Word leaves me confident that it is indeed possible. The Apostle Paul provides a multitude of examples of this through his own experiences and it is a common theme in much of his teaching. One of the common threads that form the foundation for a life of joy is that we must turn our attention away from ourselves.
Selfishness is a plague that we cannot seem to escape and far too often it worsens when things go wrong and life gets tough. We turn inward and become so focused on me; my problems; my trouble; my pain. That just makes us more miserable. You can be certain that if you focus on your problems, you will have very little joy.
Instead, we must turn our attention outward. We must look for opportunities to use our difficulties to advance the cause of Christ and bring God glory through our problems. We must look for ways to bless, encourage and serve others. I can assure you that through choosing to look outward you will find a renewed joy in your own spirit. You will find that one of the fastest way to bring a little joy into your own life is to focus on others instead of yourself.
If you are struggling to find joy in life, I challenge you today to stop living life for yourself and begin living it for God’s glory. The crazy thing you will discover is that when you live for yourself and your own happiness, you never actually find joy. It is a blessed paradox of following Christ that when you begin to live for His glory above everything else, you find immense joy.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “You know what it’s like having five kids? Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.” Today I brought home my own 5th child and I’m sure that those moments where I feel like I’m drowning will come. But today? Today I feel nothing but joy as I consider the many blessings that God has given to me. Five healthy kids, four of whom already show interest in following Jesus. An amazing wife that does an incredible job taking care of all of us. Wonderful friends who have sacrificed to be a blessing and help to us and a church family that truly cares about living out the love of Jesus in their lives. I have a job I love, a comfortable house to come home to and more than I need in terms of stuff. I am truly a blessed man.
Despite all the blessings in my life, I can be tempted to look past the blessings and see only the negative. Even during such a special weekend as this one has been it would be easy to focus on the sleepless nights, the hard chairs, bad hospital food and the stress of finding people to watch our kids. Isn’t it amazing how we can do that? Despite tremendous blessings, all we see are the problems. Sometimes all I see are the messes my kids make and the things they break. It’s easy to focus on the bills that have to be paid, the projects yet undone and the things I think I need to buy or do.
When this is what I see, the joy and gratitude give way to stress and frustration. This undoubtedly has an affect not only on me, but on those around me. The longer I focus on the difficulties, the more critical, negative, and stressed out I become. Before long, my personal attitude begins working against the blessings I do have as relationships deteriorate and consequences take effect. The saddest thing about this process is that it is nothing more than the consequence of a simple choice.
I’m not saying that you can choose the difficulties of life any more than you can choose the blessings. The reality is that much of life is simply beyond our control. However, what is within your control is the perspective you will have. Consider the instruction of the Apostle Paul – “Rejoice in the Lord always… (Philippians 4:4).” You can choose to focus on the negatives and difficulties of your life or you can focus on all of the blessings God has given you. Even in the most difficult of circumstances you can turn your eyes to Jesus and rejoice in Him. I urge you to take a moment to evaluate your life and consider this question: What are you looking at? May you find great joy and peace as you look at Jesus and all the blessings he has placed in your life.