The life of faith is meant to be a joyful existence. But too often joy feels like something that’s just beyond our grasp. We may get flashes of it, but life can feel like a struggle. It can feel mundane. It can even feel pretty bleak.
But we know that joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. This joy isn’t the same thing as momentary happiness. It’s the abiding sense of triumph we have been given in Jesus. When we come to faith in Jesus, he begins to grow within us an unshakeable sense of joy.
And yet, there are things that can block the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They sneak into our hearts and steal our joy.
There are so many things that can become joy stealers in our lives, but here are 5.
Ambition really is a double edged sword. Without it, nothing of great meaning, purpose, or value would ever be done. Without a vision for something better, and a motivation and plan to get there, we would never see our fullest potential.
I have tons of ambition. I want to be a part of a movement of Jesus followers who change the world. I feel that this is something God has called me to. And not only me, but all Christians.
But ambition cuts both ways. When the metrics of success (like big numbers at an event, a large following online, or a hefty paycheck) become ends unto themselves, we can begin to lose focus.
Our ambition becomes less focused on the good that God has called us to accomplish and more focused on making ourselves look accomplished.
And what we find out is this: we will never be successful enough to fill the void in our hearts that only Jesus can fill. And that steals our joy.
God calls us to excellence. God doesn’t want us to give him our second best and justify it under a banner of grace. The Church should have higher standards of excellence than the world, not lower, because our purpose and mission is more important.
But God isn’t looking for perfection. He knows that we couldn’t do it if we tried. And the only reason we are chasing some ideal of perfection is that we hope it will make us good enough. Or at least it will make us look good enough.
But perfection is a cruel taskmaster. And it steals our joy.
Bitterness often creeps in alongside our righteous anger. When someone has genuinely wronged us, it is good and natural for us to be upset.
But bitterness begins to grow even after the conflict is long resolved. Bitterness makes us not only hate the actions a person did to us, but it makes us hate the actual person. We begin to look at them through the lens of our hurt, always assuming the worst of them.
You do that enough, and eventually that’s just how you look at everybody.
Bitterness makes you cynical. It makes the world grey. And that definitely steals your joy.
4. Guilt or Shame
Guilt and shame can take over your life if you let them. We can find ourselves in a pattern where we constantly beat ourselves up for all the ways we are falling short.
When guilt and shame take over, we read the bible and only see how it condemns the very actions that we seem to fall back into on a regular basis. And that can make us feel hopeless.
This is never what Jesus intended your life of holiness to look like. Yes, Jesus wants you to pursue a life of purity, goodness, and moral virtue in his name. But that only comes when you are connected to him.
And because of his grace, Jesus doesn’t follow you around with a scorecard. That’s not how your relationship with him functions anymore.
You have no time to be joyful when you are busy beating yourself up.
Comparison never leads to anything good.
Comparing can go one of two ways. One is that you appear better than the person you’re comparing yourself with, and that makes you feel superior. The other is that you appear worse than that person, and that makes you feel envious.
Envy is ugly. It makes us hate people for being blessed. What kind of unhealthy person gets upset at someone else’s happiness? Envy makes us root against the well-being of other people. It sees everybody else as the enemy, as the competition.
Envy leaves no room for joy. It sees even someone else’s joy as a reason to dislike or distrust them.
HOW TO FIGHT BACK
We all struggle with some, if not all, of these joy stealers. And the way back to joy will involve getting rid of them. But not only that. They need to be replaced with something positive, something life-giving, something joy-producing.
Here are three powerful weapons that fight back against joy stealers.
1. Selfless Love
We were built for selfless love. It’s only when we give our lives away that we find meaning and purpose in our lives. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus.
“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (2 Corinthians 10:24)
This is what it looks like to become the person you were meant to be. And the thing about becoming the person you were meant to be is that the congruence brings joy.
It’s like a machine. When it functions according to its purpose, everything is great. When it stops functioning according to its purpose, it begins to do damage to itself and everything it comes into contact with.
Selfless love turns us away from our ungodly sense of ambition and perfectionism. Those things cause us to only focus on us. Love focuses on others. And when we focus on others, we find joy.
2. Radical Contentment
We’re never going to experience joy if we’re constantly thinking about all the ways that we haven’t gotten what we deserve. But this way of thinking forgets that we have been given far more than we deserve in the grace of Jesus.
We need to cultivate a sense of radical contentment. We can be content no matter what our circumstances.
Here’s what Paul says about contentment.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Contentment reminds us that bitterness has no place in our lives. We need not hold onto our grudges. We can be content with any outcome. Contentment shows us that we should celebrate all the ways that God is blessing other people, rather than feeling envious.
Plain and simple, contentment brings joy.
3. Willful Hope
Hope isn’t something that just happens to us. We have to choose to hope.
Many people believe that “hope is a dangerous thing.” But that’s only true if the object of your hope isn’t certain to come through. We have a different kind of hope, because our hope is in Jesus.
Here’s what Paul says about hope.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
Joy is the present enjoyment of the future hope we have in Jesus. He has promised that he will never leave us and never forsake us.
It’s hope that allows us to stop beating ourselves up for the things we’ve gotten wrong. Hope allows us to enjoy the present moment, knowing that God has our future in his hand. Hope allows us to rest in his finished work that will one day be revealed.
A life of hope is a life of joy. This is the life that Jesus wants for us.