I’ve noticed something about people who go to church. Some experience more joy than others even when they are having similar problems. I often wonder why it is that way.
For instance, Jane and Mary go to the same church and both lose their jobs. They have encountered the same challenge, yet their reactions are very different. Jane prays and can’t sleep. Mary prays and has a peace she can’t explain. Jane comes to church and concern seems to shrivel her face. Mary comes to church with the same concern but a smile is on her face (not a plastic, phony smile but a natural expression of acceptance and trust). Jane urgently asks others to pray for her while Mary tends to be praying for people. Jane doesn’t have time to serve because she is looking for a job. Mary volunteers because she is in between jobs. Jane can’t be generous and give to the Lord, while Mary keeps giving because she can’t afford not to. The reactions are strikingly different. Maybe I notice this because I play the unique role of pastor in each person’s life.
Along with noticing these differences between Jane and Mary, I also notice some habits Mary possess and Jane is lacking. I think these 5 habits allow Mary to experience joy in the midst of her problem. Now don’t misunderstand me. Mary still experiences all the negative emotions and worries that Jane has, but because of these 5 habits Mary seems to have a different perspective; which allows her to have a different attitude and ultimately a different approach to the challenge.
5 Habits to Cultivate Joy
1) People like Mary strive to bring glory to God. They take seriously the command to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10) and then they do it. They are committed to putting into action what they discover pleases God. As a result, their attitudes…their thoughts…their actions bring a smile to God. They are committed to this habit when things go their way and when life is a struggle. As a result, their circumstances are secondary to their purpose. To put it bluntly…they are more concerned about pleasing God than themselves or anyone else.
2) People like Mary enjoy God’s gift of unity. Paul wrote in Ephesians, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Notice it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity” not “make every effort to create unity.” God provides unity for his people to keep. We don’t create it. Be humble, gentle, patient…bear with one another in love. These actions cannot be fulfilled when we barely know a person. We do these things with people we know and who know us. Those who practice this habit have figured this out. They are committed to sharing their lives with others and letting others share their lives with them.
3) People like Mary apply God’s Word to their life. They don’t just know what the Bible says. They attempt daily to practice what the Bible says. With every choice in life there are two paths: God’s way and some other way. Individuals who practice this skill read the word and apply it to their choices. James, Jesus’ half brother, said it this way, “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”
4) Those striving to be like Mary are looking for ways to serve others. They don’t ignore themselves or their needs. They just don’t let self and personal needs dominate their life. They have learned the balancing act Paul describes in the letter to the Philippians, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” While they are serving others (a.k.a. taking an interest in someone else’s needs) they are trusting God will take care of them. We church people call this ministry. “Ministry” is the church word for serving others in Jesus’ name.
5) Finally, people who are like Mary find a way to introduce Jesus to individuals their circumstances bring to them. Jesus’ last command before ascending to heaven was “go and make disciples.” The word “go” means “as you go.” In other words, individuals like Mary don’t wait for mission trips or service projects or Sunday morning to talk about Jesus. They communicate Jesus to others as their life unfolds…daily if possible.
I have observed this over the years. People like Mary have just as many challenges, problems, failures and disappointments as people like Jane. All the people like Mary…they are not exempt from pain. However, they are more balanced, happier people. I have multiple explanations for why some church attendees remain like Jane even though they’ve been attending worship services, conferences, mission trips and bible studies for years, but that will have to be for another blog. Really, that is not the important issue at hand. The question you need to answer is “Are you like Jane or Mary?”