I received an email this week from a woman I’d prayed for many months ago. Her story and prayer request had pierced my heart. She was at her lowest point, living a life devoid of hope, in the darkest place she thought she could be. The challenges ahead were immense. Yet, she wanted me to pray with her for change. As I read her story again and prayed for her, I knew this was a change only God could work.
Too often this world is a dark place. The world tries to take away our hope, our peace, and our joy. The trials and suffering are immense. The dangers very real.
Can we live a joy-filled life, even in such a world? Even when we’re in the darkest of places?
She wrote this week to share how God has been answering her prayers over the past months. As I read her email, I was stopped by these words: “my heart is overwhelmed with joy at the work God has done and is still doing in my life.” OVERWHELMED WITH JOY!
What is Joy?
Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is based on your situation – whether things are good and ‘happy’ in your life. Joy comes from a deeper place. You can be filled with joy, even when your life isn’t happy.
Joy comes from God. It’s one of the fruits of Spirit he gives to believers (Galatians 5:22-23). Experiencing joy is a choice we make – to choose to accept God’s gift and allow our hearts to rejoice.
Rick Warren defines Joy as:“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation. “
The definition I liked the best, though, is that joy is an orientation of the heart. (From Theopedia)
Joy is a state of mind that comes from choosing to turn your heart toward God.
3 Steps to Living a Joy-Filled Life
1) Focus your attention on God
Living a joy-filled life begins with orienting your heart toward God.
The wise men saw a star rise in the western sky and oriented their lives to studying and tracking it. They knew this start was something different, something special. We don’t know a lot about their next steps, but we can assume they must have turned their focus to this star and studied it. The wise men in the East were known to be scholars and academics, so they likely spent time observing and studying the star to determine its significance. Perhaps they also had other signs from God that this was no ordinary star.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:1-6 NIV)
Consider the difference in attention to God from the Magi and the leaders in Jerusalem.
Both knew and studied the scriptures. The Magi knew the scriptures and prophecies, so they knew this star was the indication of something extraordinary. They came asking for “the one who has been born king of the Jews” because they knew scripture – but also because they believed scripture and believed in the Messiah.
The Jewish leaders also knew and studied scripture. They were able to readily recite the verses indicating that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but their hearts weren’t open to the possibility of the Messiah actually coming. They were fearful of change, afraid this might upset their positions and power, unsure of what might happen if the prophecy were fulfilled, unwilling to open their hearts to the possibility of God’s miracle.
Is your attention turned toward God?
If you want to discover God’s extraordinary joy, open your heart to God’s possibilities and set your focus on him.
2) Follow where God leads
The Magi didn’t simply study the star from afar, they set out to find it. They told King Herod: “We saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.” As they left Jerusalem, we’re told: “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:7-9 NIV)
They followed the star to the place God led, for God’s purpose.
Imagine… They saw an unusual star in the sky. They studied it and consulted ancient prophecies to try to make sense of it. Then, they set out on a long journey to find it. But, how could they be sure it was indeed a sign from God? How could they know this journey would be worthwhile? What if they were wrong and it was just an unusual star and they journeyed for nothing?
Do you ever wonder that about following God? How can you be sure you’re following God’s direction?
Consider the challenges of navigating by starlight. You can’t always see the star. The star would only be visible on a clear night. They wouldn’t be able to see it during the day or during storms or cloudy nights. From the scripture, it also sounds like the star wasn’t always visible, even at night. As they left Jerusalem, we’re told the star they’d seen when it initially rose now reappeared. So, they likely journeyed without the star present, stepping out in faith.
Following God is a lot like following the star.
Make sure you’ve validated your directional signals with scripture. God may not send you a star, but he likely will provide other directional signals to guide your way.
Step out in faith, knowing you won’t have a map of the road ahead and will have to journey for periods of time without any directional confirmation.
You will journey through darkness, storms, uncertainty, and fear.
Yet, what a reward to follow where God leads!
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV)
God led the Magi right to Jesus and they were overjoyed. They were moved to bow down and worship this infant, the one they knew in their hearts was the Messiah.
Through the uncertainties of the call and the dangers of the journey, they found a joy that overwhelmed their hearts. A joy that comes from being in the presence of Jesus and committing your heart to follow him wherever he leads.
If you want to live a joy-filled life, no matter the uncertainties and difficulties along the journey, follow God’s path in all you do.
3) Don’t follow those who aren’t oriented toward God
The Magi were certain who to follow. They’d committed themselves to following the star from God and to finding Jesus.
“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:12 NIV)
I wonder if they hadn’t already discerned that Herod’s heart wasn’t oriented toward God as theirs were. Surely they sensed something wasn’t pure in his intentions to worship the baby. They certainly couldn’t have missed the change in atmosphere in Jerusalem when they brought news of the birth of the king of the Jews. In verse 3, we’re told King Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed.
The angel in their dreams provided a confirmation that their hearts already knew.
Be wise about who you follow.
Choose friends, mentors, and influencers who also have their hearts oriented toward God. Those who don’t will lead you away from joy.
Was there any joy in Herod or those in his inner circle who were so afraid of the Messiah’s birth? Was there any joy in what came next after the wise men went back to their country (Matthew 2:13-18)?
Don’t let others steal your joy.
Choose your friends and counsel wisely, selecting those who also have their hearts focused on God.
Living a joy-filled life is a choice, not a circumstance.
We won’t always be happy in this life, but we can have a joy-filled life. Joy is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit. Joy comes from living a life connected and oriented toward God.
Will you step out in faith like my prayer friend to find joy in your life? The road won’t be easy, but what a reward to find joy that overwhelms your hurting heart!
Have you seen his star? Will you follow it to find Jesus in your life? Will you commit your life to seeking him and following his path? Will you choose to live a life filled with joy?
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:10 NIV)