The Christian religion is not a religion of misery, but a religion of joy. God is after your highest joy — a joy that is found in him. We Christians know this intellectually. But because of the world, the flesh, and the devil — our joy easily escapes us. Our sin sometimes gets the best of us. The enemy sometimes wins.
I’m sure, like me, you desire joy. You want that for yourself and others around you. But as I examine my own heart, and see the lives of others, how come many of us are often joyless?
Many reasons, of course. But here’s three practical killjoys in the Christian life.
There’s a good kind of reflection, a reflection in which you look back on God’s faithfulness in the past. “You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).
But that’s not what I mean.
What I have in mind is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. This looks like a current distaste with your present circumstances that you long to go back to a different period of life when things were more joyful, more comfortable. You miss the good ole days. You want, if we’re being honest, your idols back.
This mindset is detrimental.
Nostalgia will rob your joy and hurt your witness for Christ. Indeed, a pre-occupation with how things used to be is hazardous for the soul.
Let’s look to Paul. While in prison, he wrote the letter to the Philippians. The theme of the letter is joy in Christ amid hard times. Seems fitting since Paul is in prison. In chapter three, Paul lists some accomplishments, some failures.
And then he adds this statement: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
The past is over. Good or bad, you can’t change it.
Yes, weep the loses of life. Yes, celebrate the good times and reflect on God’s faithfulness. But don’t be stuck on something that happened a decade ago. Instead, seek the Lord now and aim to move forward to the glory of God.
Comparison is the thief of joy. It usually leads to two thing: pride or despair. Pride happens when you see how your accomplishments are better than others; despair happens when you see how others’ accomplishments are better than yours. It’s always a lose-lose situation.
Comparison can happen at any stage:
- Singles who desire marriage secretly feel jealous when their friends get married.
- Couples who can’t have kids get bitter at the ones who can.
- Successful pastors feel tempted to look down on pastors in obscurity.
- The pastor in obscurity thinks the successful pastors are incessantly happy.
You and I are tempted to think, “If I can just have what they have, then I’ll have joy.” This is idolatry. And it’s a lie from the enemy. The truth is, successful or not, you and I often have no idea what the other person is going through, or what they had to do to get what you want. The comparison game never helps, and only breeds more jealously. And this kind of jealously happens when we see how God has blessed others but forget how God has blessed us.
If comparison is the thief of joy, then gratitude is the chief of joy.
It’s amazing how much emphasis the Bible puts on gratitude. In fact, it speaks of gratitude as one of our highest commands (Psalm 100:4; Psalm 50:23; 1 Thess. 5:18). An ungrateful heart dishonors God. And anything that dishonors God robs of joy.
Here’s how John Piper puts it:
“When gratitude does not spring up in our hearts at God’s great goodness to us, it probably means that we don’t want to pay him a compliment; we don’t want to magnify him as our benefactor. And there is a very good reason that human beings by nature do not want to magnify God with thanksgiving or glorify him as their benefactor. The reason is that it detracts from their own glory, and all people by nature love their own glory more than the glory of God.”
The most joyful Christians I know are usually the most grateful. Remember what you truly deserve, and then thank God for what you actually get.
Sure, these aren’t the only killjoys in the Christian life. Time would fail to mention them all. But don’t overlook these three. They’re more common than you think, and sometimes act like landmines — you don’t see them coming until they undo you. Prepare your heart by feeding on Christ daily. After all, there’s infinite joy to be had.
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