How do you wake up in the morning?

  • Sunnyside up?
  • A little scrambled?
  • Over-hard?

Maybe you wake up cheery.

Maybe you have to warm up to cheery; you need coffee, a shower, breakfast, etc.

I have to warm up. I get there pretty quick, but it’s not automatic; I’m a little scrambled for a short while.

How about you?

We’re all different, but what we have in common is the knowledge and desire for something deeper, an inner sense of joy, and a longing for it.

We know several things about joy.

  • It’s a fruit of the Spirit.
  • We all desire it.
  • You can choose to cultivate it.
  • It’s elusive under pressure, but you can have it even on difficult days.
  • You can’t go the distance without it.

With all this being true, where does joy break down?

For context, we should keep in mind that the last couple of years of any leader’s life has stolen some joy, but take heart; it can be restored.

Let’s start by identifying some of the common thieves of joy.

  • Unrelenting high levels of pressure
  • Living outside your calling or serving in the wrong place
  • Leading in a toxic or unhealthy environment
  • Lack of close relationships and friends you trust
  • Unresolved conflict at home
  • Feeling unappreciated or unwanted
  • Working hard but little results

Thieves of joy are real, but we must not allow ordinary circumstances to rob us of that joy. There will always be something waiting to steal it from you. It’s in the inner life that you cultivate with God that sustains true joy.

The absence of joy often manifests itself as discouragement.

Prolonged discouragement can drain your passion and energy and even leave a soul-level wound.

As Christian leaders, we must trust God for the potential of true joy, and if a thief comes and discouragement is the result, we have a road back to joy.

The Road Back To Joy

1) “Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship; it is a consequence.” (Eugene Peterson)

True and lasting joy cannot be summoned, manufactured, or purchased. Instead, it comes from a deeper place, an endless source, God Himself.

“We come to God because none of us have it within ourselves, except momentarily, to be joyous. Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. It is life working together harmoniously. We can’t manage that for long on our own.”

Eugene Peterson, from “A Long Road of Obedience in the Same Direction.”

Therefore, joy can’t be found in lasting abundance when there is distance from God.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit — a gift of God that comes from continued closeness with Him and the endeavor to live according to His Word.

2) The presence of joy does not mean the absence of pain.

I’ve struggled to fully embrace the New Testament’s clarity about suffering in a Christian’s life, but it’s undeniable. It’s part of life, and further, we are called to share in Christ’s sufferings.

Leaders are not spared from this truth.

“Christian joy is not an escape from sorrow. Pain and hardship still come, but they cannot drive out the happiness of the redeemed.” Eugene Peterson

It’s not wise for us to assess or judge the level of what others call suffering in their lives, but just tend to what is in our own lives and do our best to live it out well.

Certainly, we are not called to seek suffering, and life itself brings enough our way.

In a certain way, suffering brings definition to joy and makes the depth of joy all the more beautiful.

The joy of the Lord is our strength! (Nehemiah 8:10)

3) Joy is always new.

I can’t say this better than one of my favorite authors, Henri J.M. Nouwen, from his book, Lifesigns.

“The word ‘ecstasy’ helps us to understand more fully the joy that Jesus offers. The literal meaning of the word can help to guide our thinking about joy. ‘Ecstasy’ comes from the Greek ‘ekstasis,’ which in turn is derived from ‘Ek’, meaning out, and ‘stasis,’ a state of standstill. To be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. 

Thus, those who live ecstatic lives are always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality.

Here we see the essence of joy.

Joy is always new. Whereas there can be old pain, old grief, and old sorrow, there can be no old joy. Old joy is not joy! (Henri Nouwen)

Joy is always connected with movement, renewal, rebirth, change– in short, with life.”

4) If you have been wounded, give yourself time to heal.

We have acknowledged that joy can exist in pain and sorrow, but this is not meant as a badge of honor to wear.

Again, suffering is not something we seek. I’m writing about it because it’s part of the human condition.

Therefore,

  • When you are hurting, give yourself time to heal.
  • When you are exhausted, take time to rest.
  • When you are carrying tremendous pressure, ask for help and let God carry what you can’t carry.

Joy helps the process of healing and is multiplied in the healing.

Further, joy is not something you must seek or cultivate alone; there are times when God intends for the overflow of another’s joy to be poured into you.

And He intends for you to receive it freely.

5) Healthy habits, more than ecstatic moments, are the practices of joy.

God is the source of your joy, but there are everyday practices that cultivate that joy and allow you to experience it to the full.

Let’s consider a few:

Gratitude
Gratitude is the champion of contentment, and contentment is the foundation of joy.

This practice begins with an awareness of all you have to be grateful for and the daily habit of expressing that gratitude.

Laughter
I have a little rock on my desk with one word painted on it — “laugh.”

It’s a reminder that even when moving the big rocks or under the pressure of lots of little rocks… laughter is one of the best practices in cultivating joy.

It’s a reminder not to take all of life, or certainly myself, too seriously.

A light-hearted approach to life goes a long way in softening the more intense and difficult moments we must face.

Community
Certainly, you can experience the deep inner joy of God with just you and God. But even that is community. It’s a community of two.

Joy is enhanced in the company of other believers, other leaders like you, who share life together, both its difficulties and its celebrations.

Generosity
A lifestyle of generosity is the fuel of joy, both yours and others.

Generosity with your resources, kindness, time, and more helps to free your hands and heart to receive joy. Generosity multiplies joy.

Outlook
A positive attitude is not only a disposition of the heart but a habit you can develop because it’s a choice.

Your outlook on life helps shape your daily perspective. It’s more than just a glass half full or half empty, and how you respond to it, it’s about what you anticipate.

As your deep inner joy increases, our more common and wonderfully human idea of happiness increases as well.

Joy is like the wiser big sister or helpful big bother of happiness. What lives within you (joy) helps you enjoy what is around you (happiness.)