You can run, but you can't hide.
Just when the sun breaks through to your heart, they attack,
conjuring up a dark cloud to squelch your joy.
Even believers can fall victim to the joy snatchers. They put our joy in
jeopardy daily. Who or what are they?
Here are a few of the most insidious culprits.
"An anxious heart weighs a man down" (Prov. 12:25). When the weight of anxiety shackles our minds, our hearts cannot dance with joy. How do we rejoice always and have no anxiety about anything (Phil. 4:4, 6), as Paul exhorts? We can ask God to reveal what anxious thoughts weigh us down, and then cast our burdens on Him and trust that He will sustain us (Ps. 55:22).
When I attended a conference on prayer, the speaker described "to cast" as "to heave"—as one would heave a sack of potatoes onto a truck. She then asked us to stand, picture the weight of all our anxieties on our shoulders, reach back, grasp it with our hands, and, with all our strength, heave our sack of cares onto God. The spirit in the room immediately lightened.
As new burdens threaten to steal our joy, we can continue to cast them upon God, who "daily bears our burdens" (Ps. 68:19).
The writer of Hebrews admonishes us, "Be content with what you have" (Heb. 13:5). Though God may pour numerous blessings into our lives, our joy quickly runs down the drain when we covet.
Discontent and ungratefulness are like two greedy hands pulling the stopper in our bathtub of joy. When we focus upon our lack in relation to another's lot (larger home, more clients, better looks, stronger health), we are silently saying to God, "Why didn't You give me what You gave him? Why haven't You been as good to me as to her?" We question God's goodness, faithfulness, and love.
Though others may have blessings we desire, they cannot compare with the richness of joy that God gives. Acknowledging this truth, David exclaims, "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound" (Ps. 4:7, emphasis mine).
Choosing contentment over coveting enriches our lives, for "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6). Gratefulness is like the flow of water and contentment the plug for the drain. No matter how little we have, contentment keeps us feeling full. As we rejoice in all the good things God has given us, a spirit of gratitude fills our tub of joy to overflowing.
Sin separates us from God, and anything that pulls us away from His presence pulls us away from joy. "In [His] presence is fullness of joy" (Ps. 16:11, NASB) and "Strength and joy [are] in his dwelling place" (1 Chron. 16:27).
Like a fisherman's lure, sin appears enticing and satisfying. But once we take a bite, it hooks and enslaves us. Conversely, God's laws "give joy to the heart" (Ps. 19:8). When we obey, we experience supernatural and untarnished joy that no sin can ever offer. When we walk by the Spirit rather than our flesh, the fruit of joy blooms in our lives (Gal. 5:22).
If we carry unconfessed sin, God's heavy hand stays upon us day and night (Ps. 32:4). The weight of our sin covers us like a thick wet blanket, suffocating our joy.
Acknowledging his transgression, David prayed, "Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness" (Ps. 51:7–8). When we respond to the Spirit's conviction, God's cleansing frees us to once again taste joy.
During a particularly hectic week, I stopped briefly one afternoon to sit before the Lord. Recognizing something was not right, I asked Him, "What is going on inside me?" He revealed to me that in overcommitting myself, I left no space for joy in my heart.
When we jump on the speeding bus of busyness, we whiz by quiet green pastures of joy where God offers to restore our souls. Busyness gains momentum on the wheels of thoughts such as It's all up to me. It's all up to me to find a new job, to solve her problem, to secure a contract, to attract that person, to raise the money, etc. Relying on ourselves rather than God, we have no time to rest.
Akin to busyness, lack of sleep is a sister culprit that threatens our joy. To a tired body and spirit, even blessings can feel like burdens. If our bodies lack the basic fuel they need to thrive—nutritious food, sleep, time to relax—joy withers like an unwatered and undernourished plant.
While working to complete a book by the deadline, I rose early after another late night. In my devotional time, I read Psalm 127:
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; . . . It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late . . . for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
—Ps. 127:1–2, NASB
I pictured the sweaty laborers stacking bricks under the hot sun. Though they may dig, haul, and hammer till their calloused hands become raw, if the Lord is not building through them, they might as well be lying on the beach sipping piña coladas.
I realized that even pulling numerous late nights and early mornings could not help me complete the book in the way that God's Spirit working through me could. Thus, holding up my manuscript, I prayed for God's anointing and strength to finish. I repented of the attitude that completion and success of the book was all up to me. I proclaimed that only God's Spirit—not my striving and agonizing to find the perfect words, illustrations, and ideas—would make my writing bear fruit and minister to readers. I handed over the responsibility for the book to God and focused on being faithful to Him.
When we hold back any area of our lives from God, we subject our joy to whims of circumstances. We're then tempted to try to control the misplaced source of our joy.
Once I was involved in a relationship I longed to keep. Whenever it thrived, I felt joyful. When it teetered on collapse, my joy plummeted. I feared totally handing it to God, suspecting He might take it away. Yet, when I attempted to "make it happen" by trying to steer it in the way I wanted it to go, I ended up frustrated and disappointed.
A desire to fully control our circumstances squeezes out joy. A friend of mine described a woman she knows who wants to fix everything—stepping in to help God out when He's not moving fast enough. Describing her friend, she said, "In obsessing about what needs to be fixed instead of believing God can and will fix it in His way and His time, she misses so many reasons to rejoice that are right under her nose."
When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his dearest treasure, his only and long-awaited son—the promised one—Abraham obeyed. Though he had no idea what would happen as he hiked up that mountain of sacrifice, he responded to Isaac's question, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" with, "God himself will provide" (Gen. 22:7–8). As this joy stealer tempts us to clench our grip and make things happen, we must look to God and respond boldly in faith as Abraham did: "God himself will provide."
Jesus said where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. When we begin to see Jesus as the treasure that brings us greater joy than all to which we hold too tightly, we can begin to release our grip. We can become like the man who in his joy upon finding a hidden treasure, sold all he had to buy the field (Mt. 13:44).
When Israel celebrated the return of the ark of the covenant, "Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart" (1 Chron. 15:29). An embittered or heavy-hearted person can feel jealous of or cynical about a spirit of joy in others. While being sensitive to others, we must not let their negativism or cynicism poison our joy.
I lived for a short time in an apartment where I felt I had to tone down my joy whenever I walked in. The cynical academic environment in which I lived tempted me to feel that unless I, too, was cynical, I was simply naïve to the sober realities of life.
Cynicism—distrust in the goodness of God or of others and their motives—throws cold water on the flames of joy. When we allow ourselves to buy into cynicism, we jeopardize joy. We are unable to enjoy simple acts of kindness, grace, or compassion, always suspecting a selfish agenda or questioning another's sincerity.
I once read, "The opposite of joy is not sorrow; it is unbelief." Though sorrow at first glance appears to be the primary suspect in the lineup of joy stealers, the real culprit is unbelief. Though outward circumstances may cause sorrow, what we believe about God in the midst of them impacts our joy. Paul was "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). If sorrow and affliction were the true culprit, Paul would be the heaviest and most joyless person of the New Testament. Yet, he writes, "I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction" (2 Cor. 7:4, NASB).
Far too easily, subtle lies creep into our thoughts, taking root in our foundational beliefs. When I stop and truly listen to what I am believing, I am stunned. The vine of Satan's lies has wound its way into my beliefs, bearing the rotten fruit of thoughts such as God doesn't really know what's best for me. What they think about me is more significant than what God says about me. When left unweeded, the vine of deception slowly chokes the fruit of joy.
Trust and faith help us to uproot lies, allowing joy to breathe again: "In him our hearts rejoice, for we trustin his holy name" (Ps. 33:21, emphasis mine). Paul prays for the Romans: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Ro. 15:13). Joy sprouts from believing, from faith. When my faith falters and deception whispers in my ears, I turn to that which fuels faith and silences lies: the Word of God (Jn. 17:17, Ro. 10:17). As we read about God's faithfulness to His children throughout Scripture, our faith strengthens. Our joy grows.
Why is it important to recognize these joy snatchers? Joy is a gift from God (Ps. 126:3). It is our possession, our birthright as children of God, and a sign of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22). At the core of joy lies not only great blessing but significant spiritual power. And the thieves of joy recognize that, especially the master thief who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (Jn. 10:10). He wants nothing more than to snatch our joy. For he knows—and cowers at—what we often forget: "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10).
Yet Jesus promised His followers, "No one will take away your joy" (Jn. 16:22). If a joy snatcher lurks in our lives, threatening to rob our joy, we must first identify it. Then, using the resources God has given us—the armor of God (the Word of God, faith, truth, worship) and help of the body (prayer, encouragement, exhortation)—we can send those thieves scurrying with our shouts of joy ringing in their ears.
Restore Your Joy
1. Stacey Padrick identifies seven thieves of joy. Circle the one you struggle with most.
2. Using your Bible and a concordance, look up three scriptural promises or principles related to this area, and record them in your journal or on a card. For example, if you find your joy dissipating because you're always comparing yourself to others, you might choose Ps. 116:7: "Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you."
3. Now talk to God about this area of your life. Confess any sin, ask Him to reveal the factors that make you prone to this tendency, and pray about what you've found in Scripture. For example, "Father, I recognize that I often focus on the good things You've given other people instead of being thankful for Your gifts to me. Please forgive my ingratitude and comparing, and show me why I'm so focused on others instead of You. Father, You have been good to me. Help me to remember Your goodness so that my soul might be at rest and be joyful."
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