I decided to begin my ‘focus word’ project in January, but when the first Sunday in January came, I still hadn’t chosen a focus word. While I was eating my breakfast, I decided to read the passage in John 17 that I thought was the passage being taught that morning at church. (It wasn’t by the way, but nonetheless, it was taught later in the month, so it was a perfect place to start for my first ‘focus word’.)
When I read verse 13, I knew I had found it. John 17 is Jesus’ prayer to his Father in which he prays about himself, about his disciples, and about the others who come to believe in him after he goes back to be with the Father. Verse 13 says, “And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.” (NLT- underline and italics mine.) In my Bible, I immediately underlined the phrase “so they would be filled with my joy,” and I circled “my joy.” I realized then and there that “joy” was going to be my focus word for the month.
I immediately noted, that Jesus came and gave us his words so that we will be filled with his joy…that He could fill us with His joy…not just filled, but filled to the full measure of His joy. John 15:11 says that when we are filled with his joy, our joy, then, will be overflowing.
The joy that Jesus gives us doesn’t equal happiness, it is independent of it, or a derivative of it…Psalm 119:1 & 2 says “Happy are people of integrity who follow the law of the Lord. Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts.” (NLT) Looking back at the John 17 passage, it basically points out that His joy comes from receiving His word. Clearly, joy and happiness are not just emotions but the result of our action in seeking and knowing the law and the Lord.
Jesus’ joy doesn’t mean we are free from difficulties…that life in Christ is just one big joy fest. No, it means that we have an anchor, something stronger to help us through the difficult times. In John 17:15, Jesus prayed not that we would be taken out of the world to avoid the difficulties and trials, but that we would be kept safe and strong as we go through those trying times. So therefore, joy is not a result of our circumstances but in knowing that Jesus is walking with us in our circumstances. Joy, then, is part of being content and in full dependence on God. Just like when David in Psalm 23:4, says that even though he walks “through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” (NLT)
The month of December was a difficult one for me. After waffling a bit, I had finally made the decision to apply for an extended visa to stay in Scotland and pursue jobs here. Holding out (or really was it procrastination and fear? Uh, yes) until right before Christmas, I got my application together and sent it off. In January, I still hadn’t heard the result from my visa application even though they already deposited my non-refundable money. I hadn’t heard if I was allowed to stay, or not, and my student visa was about to expire January 30th (in fact at that time, I didn’t even have the passport in my hands). I was working tons of hours at Starbucks, applying for jobs, and beginning to interview. I was unable to sleep, worry ran rampant as I anxiously awaited news, anything, any news. Was I going to have to return to the US, where was my passport, and what would I do back in US? Would I get an opportunity to interview (and a whole set of other worries started here). I realized that I needed to stop and seek His will and word in order to have joy and to feel at peace in all circumstances.
There are many passages that reflect on joy. The few passages I’ve noted below speak about joy which is derived from dependence on God. (All verses are from NLT)
Joy comes from the Lord who is our strength and protector:
Nehemiah 8:10 ”…do not be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Psalm 5:11-12 “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Protect them, so all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O Lord, surrounding them with your shield of love.”
Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield in every danger. I trust in him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.”
Joy comes from God’s direction which gives us reassurance of his love and provision for us:
Psalm 16:11 “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (my 2007 and 2008 verse)
Psalm 126:3 “Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!”
Joy comes from seeking and doing God’s will:
Psalm 18:28 “Lord, you have brought light into my life; my God, you light up my darkness.”
Psalm 19:8 “The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight to life.”
Psalm 40:8 “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart.”
Psalm 97:11 “Light shines on the godly, and joy on those who do right.”
I finally did get my passport back…about 4 weeks after I applied. Whew! I had one interview, didn’t get that job, but received a letter saying I had been accepted to interview in February for a personal assistant position, a position in which I did successfully obtain, thankfully. January was an exciting month. Joy has constantly been on my mind since then…is God helping me to become a joyful, contented person and can this be seen in my relationship with him as I seek his will and word? Do I take all things with joy, knowing that God cares and provides for me, no matter the circumstances? Do I have joy that is overflowing? Do others see it in my life and actions?
Next time: Trust