Updated on June 26, 2016
The Spiritual Discipline of Choosing Joy
Last week, I was out with some co-workers looking at potential office space. Before we left one of the buildings we toured, we were looking for the restroom. Just then, a guy came down the hall pushing a cart with ladders and tools on it. So, we asked where we could find the restroom. After directing us toward it, he started a long complaint about his job, and why he was doing it.
I’m on eight or nine roofs in the heat everyday. I’ve done this six days a week for nine years without a vacation. I’m tired, I’m angry, I need a vacation! But this is the only job I can get because of my DUI. Nine years ago a cop pulled me over 100 yards from my house, and I blew right at the legal limit. He threw the book at me and here I am, in the only job I can get because of it, making $400 a week! It takes 10-12 years for it to go away, so I’m stuck working for this jerk who knows I can’t go anywhere else and takes advantage of me. I’m so angry and so tired.
We were stunned. We didn’t ask about his day, about his job or how he was doing. He had both barrels fully loaded, and we happened to be in the line of fire. All week long I haven’t been able to get Mr. HVAC guy out of my mind. He seemed so hopeless, so trapped, so angry. His life, as he saw it, was ruined by either a choice he made, or a jerk of a cop. He is being held prisoner by this situation he is in, and he’s hostile about it.
I keep thinking about how he’s chosen to live enslaved by his past. He’s chosen to be bitter and angry and full of hostility. He’s actually free you know. Even though his life is restricted in some ways, he still has choices. He just can’t see them. He’s blinded by bitterness. He has freedom, he’s just decided that he isn’t done paying for his past transgression.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to an early church in Galatia. This young church had taken a left turn away from the gospel of grace, and started to believe that they had to actually do certain things in order to be following Christ. Paul warned them not to fall into the trap of being imprisoned by rules and laws. Christ’s death and resurrection gave them freedom, yet they easily fell into the doctrine of legalism. They traded their freedom for a yoke of slavery.
His counsel to these people was this: “Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness… It’s obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time… a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage.” (Galations 5 MSG)
Mr. HVAC man sure had a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage. The fruit of his choice to stay enslaved by bitterness and anger, is a toxic, hostile attitude that has so taken over his life, it spills out all over those he passes by.
Paul goes on to tell the people of Galatia: “When we live God’s way, he brings gifts into our lives… like exuberance about life.” He’s writing about joy.
The fruit of the Spirit is… JOY. Galatians 5:22
If our lives have been redeemed, restored and set free by Christ, then our lives should reflect the fruit of that. One of those reflections Paul tells us, is JOY.
That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are always wonderful, or that things always go our way. It doesn’t mean we won’t struggle and fail, experience injustice or hardship.
What it does mean, is that we consciously make a choice, that despite the hard things, we have hope that there is more to life than this because of Christ.
We choose joy.
We choose to be joyful. We choose to not enslave ourselves with petty grievances which fuel bad attitudes. We choose to say goodbye to the “stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage,” and invite Jesus to sit alongside us and help us clear it all away.
We choose the spiritual discipline of joy.
Sometimes my desire to be angry, hostile and bitter can get the best of me. I look around and think that I’d like to be anywhere but here, where the grass isn’t as green and the sky isn’t as blue. I forget that I am not trapped, imprisoned or enslaved. I’m free, and that freedom gives me the opportunity to be joyful in all things, even when my selfish desire is to be hostile.
The fruit of the Spirit is… JOY.