Perhaps the most distinctive experience between a follower of Christ and a non-follower of Christ would be how they would express and experience joy in life.
Two approaches in pursuing & experiencing joy
The individual who trusts Jesus will be able to find joy even when circumstances would naturally produce frustration and despair. How? Joy is always within reach for the disciple of Christ given His promise to transcend any hardship we may be experiencing at any given moment. Through the twin-headed claim of Christ that (1. there is purpose in our pain, and (2. there is coming a time when all our difficulties will be swallowed up by His eternal presence. When a person believes this (a.k.a. “has faith”) it produces hope from which joy will flow.
In contrast, the person who follows their own path in life will have no basis for believing there is purpose in pain nor a day coming when all evil and injustice will be made right. At best, modern-day “self-help” guides can only provide techniques that they claim will create joy and happiness by doing things like practicing daily affirmations. Affirmations such as, “I know, accept and am true to myself” or “I create a safe and secure space for myself wherever I am.” Creating safe spaces by surrounding yourself with positive people and committing to random acts of kindness are the prescriptions promoted by counselors and “self-help gurus” the world over as a way to experience greater joy in life. To be sure, being kind to others and guarding who you choose to be close friends do have real and abiding value, but do they have the inherent ability to produce joy in the life of another person? Do affirmations hold the power to create reality? At best, each of these prescriptions can only shape the perception in a person for a short period of time. These approaches fall far short of reshaping the internal landscape of our emotional state.
See the difference?
Take a closer look at how each example wants joy, but each views joy as preceding from two completely different sources. The follower of Jesus has rooted their hope in the power and promises of Christ. In other words, hope is tethered to something outside of their own power, abilities, or perspective to fully understand or control. Since the Christians’ hope is firmly placed in Christ alone, joy is attainable based on His abilities and promises. Said another way, as a person finds their satisfaction in Christ they don’t need to find satisfaction in something else. Joy is not rooted in another person, or a place in life, or something that is yet to be attained.
On the other hand, the individual living independently from Christ has the opposite view. They have placed their hope in their own power, their own rationale, their own resource(s) (including medication) for making sense of life. “Self-help” techniques simply affirm the view that hope is rooted in a person’s ability to form their own reality, their own self-made identity. For this individual, joy is rooted in themselves or another person, or arriving at a place in life through a series of advancements, or attaining a desired level of wealth. Therefore, an individual’s joy in life is wholly dependent on their own strength and ability to actualize the life he or she wants… if joy is to be realized and experienced.
Don’t believe me… do your own experiment.
Premise: Joy always flows from where I put my hope.
Experiment: take a 3X5 card with you every day and at every meal take a few moments to review the emotions you have experienced since the last time you ate. For example, if you are eating lunch, review the emotional landscape and experiences you have had since breakfast. Did you experience frustration at someone or something? Disappointment or anger, etc., etc? I am betting that you will find that when you are hoping (or trusting) in Christ, you will be able to experience deep-seated joy even during challenging experiences. Why? You have not placed your hope in people or circumstances but in Christ. On the other hand, if you have placed your hope in someone or something for your joy, you will forfeit the possibility of joy. When we place our underlying trust in Jesus it spawns joy and contentment. When you are not experiencing joy and contentment, it will always be traced back to depending on your own abilities or strength to manage or control something you simply don’t have the power to manage or control. Not for one moment do I want this to sound mechanical nor easy. Life is hard and emotions are slippery. However, the underlying principle that joy is directly connected to the object in which we are placing our hope is absolutely true.
In the coming week, as you take time to evaluate the level of joy in life – in circumstances and relationships, it may shock you to find out the simple yet profound reality that where you place your hope will determine the level of joy you will experience. By the way, you have to work at cultivating this perspective if you are a follower of Christ. Certainly, this hope came in seed form when you began your journey with Jesus, but it has to be cultivated and nourished through personal remembrance and inter-relational reminding in church life with other follows of Jesus. If neither of these values is pursued, your ability to cultivate hope in life’s difficulties will remain weak.
Jesus came to bring you life
If you are not a follower of Jesus, don’t listen to the people who say joy in life can be found without trusting in Jesus. Jesus compared people who teach “self-help” techniques as thieves who steal from you what He came to provide for you – life!
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.John 10:10
If we can help you to explore who Jesus is and more reasons as to why we follow His teachings, we would love to help you on your journey. Let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk about it: [email protected]