Friday, September 19, 2008

enjoying God (9) how can I fight for joy?

Have you ever thought of joy as a battle?

Joy is not something which slips easily into the heart. In this fallen world, with all its shame, sorrow and suffering, joy is something we must fight for with all our strength.

Many things attack our joy. We can't change these things, but we can change how we respond to them. Here's a list I gathered from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression:

- we can't change our personality,
but we must guard against our weaknesses;
- we may wake in a bad mood,
but we don't have to let it dominate us;
- we can't change a tendency to depression,
but we can choose not to give in to despair;
- we should grieve for those who die,
but we shouldn't let grief permanently overwhelm us;
- we may feel the heavy weight of guilt,
but we can remind ourselves of Jesus' death;
- we can't always change our circumstances,
but we can choose how to respond to them;
- we may feel like God is absent,
but we can remember that he is always with us in Christ;
- we can't avoid Satan's whispered temptations,
but we can decide to listen to God instead;
- we can't make ourselves happy,
but we can choose to rejoice in God.

Feelings aren't under our direct control. We can't change how we feel, but we can change what we believe, how we think, and how we act and speak, and these things will shape our emotions. Here's some practical suggestions:

1. Beliefs.
Next time you're angry, jealous, or discouraged, think about the beliefs shaping how you feel. Emotions are often a good guide to our hearts. Perhaps we're doubting God's love, or failing to trust in his goodness. Repent, pray for help, read the Bible, hold to God's promises: these change our beliefs, and shape our feelings.

2. Thoughts.
There's not much point in pushing a thought away, unless we replace it with something better. We're told to "set our minds on things above" (Col. 3:2). I memorise Bible passages, and repeat them when unhelpful thoughts pop into my head: very effective in battling impure, anxious and despairing thoughts.

3. Words and actions.
We may feel angry, but we can speak and act with kindness. We may feel miserable, but we can thank God. We may feel depressed, but we can do the next small task in front of us. It's surprising the effect this can have on our emotions.

4. Body.
We're embodied creatures, and our bodies have a huge impact on how we feel. If we're irritable, miserable, or discouraged, a look at our eating, exercise and sleeping habits during the last few hours or days may tell us why. We may need to make some changes for the sake of our godliness and joy.

I haven't even mentioned one of the most vital and neglected weapon in our battle for joy: preaching to ourselves. We mustn't let ourselves get away with untrue, discouraged thinking. We must learn to speak to ourselves of God's promises, words and salvation, and exhort ourselves to believe and rejoice.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this is the key to battling discouragement: "We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!"* Read the Psalms, and echo their words: "Praise the LORD, O my soul!" "Why are your downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God!" "Be at rest, O my soul!" (Ps. 113:1; 42:5; 116:7)

Why don't you pick up your Bible, and read Psalm 42-43? Perhaps you could choose this for your Bible reading tomorrow. Write a list of the ways the Psalmist fights for joy (don't all women love lists?). You'll discover many wonderful ways to fight for joy.

* You'll find the rest of the quote here: Christian self-talk.

images are from stock.xchng


Rosie said...

Thanks Jean - that was just what I needed to read before going out to work. Keep going :)

Jean said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Rosie. This was a very busy week, and a hard post to get out. So thanks. :)

mattnbec said...

Psalms 42-43 are some of my favourites! They are great for preaching to yourself.

"Emotions are often a good guide to our hearts." Great point.

I think the body point is one we easily forget in the midst of daily life with small kids and running just to keep up. I'm quick to see it in our children, but slow to see it in myself. I find when I'm badly sleep-deprived I can feel really depresesed. Even just working out that's why I'm feeling so low can make such a difference.


femina said...

Hi from WTBAY! Thanks for this post.

Louisa said...

thanks for this edifying post! i think i am going to get my hands on thatr book!

Dee from Downunder said...

"Feelings aren't under our direct control. We can't change how we feel, but we can change what we believe, how we think, and how we act and speak, and these things will shape our emotions."

That is so true. A good thing to remember.

Leslie said...

Another great post. :)

Hippomanic Jen said...

Very thought-provoking. I like the options approach. Some might work better for me than others.

Joce said...

What a helpful and practical post Jean, thank you! <><