One day before beginning a meeting, a lady gave us all a Thought to Ponder. “Joy is a discipline.”
Hmmmm, whirred my ancient rusty crankshaft of a brain. That doesn’t sound quite right. That bothers me.
But I couldn’t put my finger on why. For days and weeks and months this thought rolled around in my head, popping back up at odd moments.
A discipline. . . . Isn’t that something I know I ought to do, so I do it anyway even though I don’t want to?
Like putting my feet on a cold floor in the morning when I’d rather stay snuggled under the covers. Like getting on the treadmill when I’d rather get on Facebook.
It’s the “ought.” The “should.” Something I order myself to do when inwardly I want to groan.
Of course I want to be a good Christian. And I’m commanded to rejoice. So I’ll grit my teeth and clench my fists. “I will be joyful! I will be joyful!”
But for some reason that doesn’t work.
Isn’t it because . . .well . . . isn’t joy a . . . dare I say it . . . a feeling?
There’s a big difference between a discipline and a feeling. A discipline is forced upon me, by myself or someone else, in order to accomplish some greater goal. Like, “I will be joyful, because God commands me to, and I want to be an obedient Christian.”
Or “I will be joyful because I really want everyone else to know that I’ve got this Christian life thing under control.”
But a feeling. Well, that’s obviously different.
If a teenage bully were to attack your little child, would you begin with something along the lines of, “I will be indignant, even angry, because that’s the correct reaction in a time like this. I think God would be pleased with that. And I want people to see that I react correctly.”
What about if in the middle of the night you awake to smell smoke and see a glow around the edges of your bedroom door. Does your heart start racing because you’ve ordered it to do that? That feeling of apprehension, even fear, was that because you had practiced it? When your feet hit the floor, was that because of many days of discipline?
Right after a very trying experience, persecution and rejection, and having to shake the dust off their feet, the disciples, according to Acts 13:52, “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit.” Was this joy born of discipline? Did they decide together, “Remember, we’re supposed to rejoice in our persecution.” “Oh, that’s right. Come on, everybody, let’s be joyful.” Or did they have an experience and an empowerment that had changed their lives from the inside?
I knew I couldn’t force up joy, like trying to pump water from the bottom of a stagnant pool. I had tried that for a long time, and my lack of success had been remarkable.
All I was doing was faking it. All I was doing was pasting a smile on a face that hid a heart that felt lifeless. And the only people I fooled were the people who were pasting their own smiles on.
I knew I was supposed to do it, even though there was no life behind it. Maybe applying principles would help. Maybe adding more good disciplines, like longer daily prayer and Bible reading, to my list of things to do to become a better Christian, maybe they would help.
Somehow the burden just seemed heavier.
But my friend’s outright statement made me stop in utter confusion. It actually made me step back and analyze all my assumptions about the “requirement” of joy.
Joy as discipline. That isn’t right. Shouldn’t joy happen . . . well . . . naturally? I mean, occurring without effort, according to God’s stated course of His creation? Full to overflowing, like Jesus says in John 15?
And, unlike other emotions—emotions like fear or anger, which can temporarily energize me—joy . . . at least it seemed like it ought to be true . . . joy seemed like it should give me that “alive” feeling of exhilaration. Life more abundant. Like a . . . like a spring. Like a fountain. John 7. Isn’t that what Jesus said?
Joy is a natural outspringing of exhilarating, energizing emotion.