Joy has never come naturally to me.
As someone who has struggled with severe mental health challenges since early adolescence, I tend to see joy like it’s this enormous mountain that people like me, try as we might, never really figure out how to climb. I mean, it seems glorious for those special people who are able to reach the summit and describe the view to the rest of us down at the bottom. But I was never one of those people. And there have been many times in my life when I didn’t even bother with the first few steps because I thought I just wasn’t cut out for the climb.
But earlier this spring, I started to feel like I was experiencing something a little bit like spiritual déjà vu. Have you ever had that? You know, it’s those seasons when God keeps bringing up the same concept or idea over and over, in different ways or situations, and you just can’t seem to escape it. And what was the theme that God kept flashing before my eyes like a neon sign blinking in the night?
It all started early in May when I was invited to speak at a local event on the topic of “joy in all circumstances.” Then, over the next two months it began to confront me regularly in my personal quiet times. Finally, toward the end of June I was offered another invitation to speak, this time at a women’s retreat on the topic of “choosing joy”. God had my attention.
Developing a Plan to Learn about Joy
Knowing that God was urging me to lean into this theme, I developed a personal challenge to work on for the next month. Every morning I would journal on a Bible passage about joy. Next, I would come up with an application activity for that day to help me implement the ideas that stuck out to me from the morning’s reading. And finally, I would journal again every evening to recount my day, evaluate how my application activity had gone, and answer three questions:
- Did I choose joy today?
- What made choosing joy a challenge today?
- What did I learn today?
This challenge was a big commitment, but I am so glad I stuck it out through the entire month. Doing so has radically reshaped my understanding of the significance of joy in Christian living and has broadened my perspective on what it takes to climb that impossible mountain I was talking about earlier.
As it turns out, there is some truth to my prior assessment that I’m just not cut out for the climb. None of us are, really—at least, not on our own. To experience the all-encompassing, life-giving joy of the Lord is a mountain that we as humans simply can’t scale by our own strength. But does that mean we should give up on the idea of joy altogether? Absolutely not.
On the contrary, I believe that as Christians we have a responsibility to pursue joy in all circumstances. In John 15:10-11, Jesus says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
The Inseparable Connection between Joy & Obedience
Jesus tells us that there is a correlation between keeping his commands, remaining in his love, and experiencing joy that is “complete”—mountaintop joy. As it turns out, joy is actually connected to our obedience. When we choose to walk with Jesus and obey the Word of God, it helps us to remain in his love—and this happens to be an essential component when it comes to scaling the mountain.
Think of it this way. Could you imagine trying to scale Mount Everest on your own, without any equipment or experience? It’s a ludicrous thought! Please don’t try it. But if you were to make the climb with all the right equipment and a Sherpa to guide you, you would vastly increase your chances of success—especially if you followed all of your guide’s instructions and remained close to him at all times.
The journey to mountaintop joy is similar. When you try to go it alone, you will often find yourself in treacherous situations that you didn’t see coming and that you are not equipped for. This has been my experience for much of my life. While I am a passionate follower of Jesus, I tend to struggle with this idea that “I have to do it.” I have to strive, I have to try harder, I have to achieve. And when it comes to attaining mountaintop joy, it’s like I think that only when I can figure out how to scale the mountain alone will Jesus be truly pleased with me. But this is a lie that the enemy wants me to believe in order to keep me off the mountain altogether.
Joy is a Journey
I’m beginning to understand that joy isn’t really about a destination at all. It’s not something that you accomplish when you finally reach the top of the mountain, pat yourself on the back, and look out at the ultimate view. Rather, joy is something experienced in the journey. When you rely on Jesus’ strength, savvy, and guidance to help you scale the mountain, instead of striving in and of yourself, you begin to realize that the joy of the Lord just sort of happens. It comes from the Holy Spirit within you and pours out to the world around you… and you don’t even have to be at the top of the mountain!
“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love… I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Joy isn’t something that we somehow have to earn or achieve. It is something that we experience as we remain in the presence of the Lord and his spirit enables us to obediently follow his instructions. It is possible at every step, every turn, every incline, and every challenge when you are willing to walk in step with Jesus, the greatest guide of all.
To help others on their journey towards joy, I developed the 7 Day Joy Challenge. And I’d love to share it with you!
By Talasi Guerra, who completed DTS with us in 2010. Now, she is a Christian blogger and communicator who is passionate about infusing Jesus into her everyday life and helping others do the same. She currently serves as the Director of Children and Family ministries at First Baptist Church in Lloydminster, Canada. When she is not writing, leading volunteer teams, or hanging out with her daughter Avra, you can find her and her husband Ryan playing strategy boards games on their dining room table. Connect with her on Instagram @talasiguerra. Feature photo from Peter Conlan.Learn More About DTS!