Brain science confirms what God has told us in the Bible for thousands of years. Staying in negative emotional states isn’t good for us and we can become stuck in them if we don’t move ourselves to godly joy with some regularity. Brain science also confirms that decisions and choices made in strong, negative emotional states are often poor choices. The best decisions are made from the “higher” brain functions outside of the emotional “fight or flight” mode.
The question remains, how can one be in that joyful, higher brain function mode in a world filled with evil, pain and suffering?
The Apostle Paul saw and experienced evil, pain and suffering both personally and in his world. Yet, he too had the attitude of James, who counted it all joy – even amidst trials of various kinds. (James 1:2-4) What are some of the tools they used to be joyful in their world full of evil, pain and suffering? What can you do to be more joyful today?
- Spend time in scripture. They may have been writing scripture for the New Testament themselves, but it is obvious they spent a great deal of time reflecting on the words of Jesus and the Old Testament scriptures they already had available to them. They may have even read each other’s letters as they circulated through the various congregations. In fact, Paul quotes over a hundred Old Testament scriptures in his epistles. Spending time in scripture will help you align your heart, thoughts and actions with the way God wants them to be. Try not to read to ask God to confirm what you want to believe, but rather to see what God wants you to learn.
- Pray. What did Jesus do whenever possible – especially when he was perhaps stressed or exhausted? He went off by himself and prayed. There is nothing wrong with quick prayers or rote prayers. There is something healing though in those long prayers, pouring your heart out to God.
- Tap into the Holy Spirit. If you have been immersed in baptism, in addition to the forgiveness of sins, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has many functions, most of which involve helping us in our Christian walk. The Holy Spirit helps us attain things that would be difficult otherwise. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. (Galatians 5:22-23) Ask God to have the Holy Spirit help you find that joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling you receive as a Christian.
- Surround yourself with the right things. Make Philippians 4:8 one of your life goals. Surround yourself with things that are pure, lovely, true, noble, right, admirable, praise worthy and excellent. Think about those things. Stay away from anything that doesn’t fit that description as much as humanly possible. Paul and the others weren’t ignorant of the severe problems in their world or the need to address some of them, they just didn’t spend every waking moment stewing about it.
- Ask for encouragement. God created the church in part so Christians would receive consistent encouragement from fellow believers. Unfortunately, over the years, that aspect of fellowship has been largely lost as churches focused on the worship service itself. As a result, you may have to ask someone for encouragement when you need it. Look for positive, enthusiastic Christians as they are more likely to be encouragers or at least understand how to do it. Keep asking until you find someone who is willing and able to give you the encouragement you need.
- Model encouragement. Sounds strange, but often when we spend time focused on encouraging others, we ourselves are encouraged. Isn’t it interesting how much time the writers of the epistles spent in encouraging others both corporately and individually? At times, they even mention that they, in turn, are encouraged by the words and actions of those same people.
- Serve others. I don’t know who said it first, but it’s a godly principle. It’s hard to focus on yourself when you are focused on serving others. We don’t serve others for the purpose of feeling joyful, but it is often a natural byproduct of helping someone. Your attitude while serving will determine whether or not you will find joy. If you serve selfishly, looking for personal joy, you probably won’t find it. If you serve humbly, thinking of only those you are serving, you will often find you are naturally feeling more joyful.
- Share your faith. Of course, it would be great if someone becomes a Christian because of what you share, but often you will find joy in being reminded of what an amazing gift God gave us when He allowed Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. There is joy in the resurrection and joy in the idea of our future of an eternity spent with God in Heaven.
- Create something. Sometimes we forget we were made in the image of God and are to strive to be as much like Him as humanly possible. God is the Creator. He stepped back at the end of each day of Creation and appreciated His handiwork. We can’t create to the same level as God, but we can create. I often wonder if one of the reasons Paul continued making tents was because there was some joy found in the creation of a tent.
- Take regular Sabbath type rest. There is a misconception that because Christianity did away with the Sabbath, it also negated the need for rest. Thankfully, Jesus modeled Sabbath type rest in his ministry and on at least one occasion told his disciples to do the same. Bear in mind, Sabbath type rest is not the lounging on the couch binging Netflix type of rest. Rather it is resting in God…resting the soul…a deep meaningful rest (for many of us this also includes getting more sleep).
The world will always be tough, because it is fallen. We will have seasons when we struggle and mourn more than others. But just like David and others eventually took off their sackcloth, washed off the ashes and went back to living a full, godly life, we can also learn to be joyful in our trials.