One of the fruits, one of the “you'll know them by...” marks of a Spirit filled life, we're taught, is joy.
But for many of us, even after coming to faith in Christ, a prevailing joy is not our default setting. Like other “Spiritual disciplines”- regular time in the Word, consistent times of prayer and meditation, loving those we don't like, selfless generosity to those in need of resources we have, these things take intent and effort on our part to become our nature. We don't, at least not most of us, enter into relationship with Christ as our Lord on one day, and wake up the next filled with Christlike love, compassion, gentleness, and joy. The transformation, the manifestation of the new creation we have become, develops over time, a lifetime, as God incrementally convicts and steers and enlightens and reveals, then refines and polishes the jagged edges of our human nature. Sometimes, these transformative steps are only a matter of changing perspective-seeing the same reality a new way, from a different angle. Such it is with joy.
Consider Route 322, the route many take to State College. The stretch of highway from roughly Newport to Thompsontown is, perhaps, one of the most spectacularly scenic drives in all of Pa. The road runs adjacent to the Juniata River, and from the Northbound lane, high above the river, you can see the brown ribbon of river winding into the distance, and the forested, rolling mountains stretching toward the far off horizon to the west. I've made that drive at least a hundred times, probably more. Most times I see only guardrails, tractor trailers, the white broken stripe between the lanes, and the green interstate style signs. Most of the time I just want the drive to be over with. Most times if I could teleport past the whole thing and just arrive I would do so. But every once in a while, on those unfortunately rare times when my mind is focused on the here and now instead of the next place, the view out the driver's side window is stunningly majestic and beautiful.
Joy, I believe, can become a more frequent reality when we bring our mind back from some imagined destination, look out the driver's side window, and allow the “getting there” to be, at least, half the fun. We aim our awareness, too often, on some as yet unrealized future place and time where we might find joy- when that promotion occurs, when we're finished school, when I can finally afford a new Softail, when we retire. Or we “live” in some idealized past time, our “glory days”, when we were the star running back, when we had no bills other than gas in the Camaro, when there were far more years ahead of us than behind us and our life was mostly a blank sheet of paper. We travel through the present, the only Earthly reality truly available to us, seeing only the guardrails, the stripes on the road, and the exit signs, missing the spectacular scenery, the fountains of joy all around us.
At almost any moment, regardless of the ambient stresses and worries that may underlie our present circumstance, we can pause, take in our surroundings, and allow ourselves to be thrilled by them. We are, round the clock, all our lives, immersed in generous beauty and wonder that we need only notice to begin having joy as our default setting. Look around. There are comfortable homes, the company of family, indulgent food, too many clothes, sunshine, storm clouds, a wet nosed dog, majestic trees, Famous Hot Wieners, a star filled night sky, the smell of baking, beaches, a motorcycle ride, toys, the magic of modern communication, mowed lawns, friends, cool sheets, an endless variety of music, medicine, people who need us, people on whom we depend, uncountable books, the collective knowledge of all mankind for all history at our fingertips, and the means-a plan-where by we can live forever with the Creator of the Universe.
Surely, all of us, at any given time, can cite reasons why joy, for us, is a distant concept. And all those things, the trials and torments of life, are very real. But I believe, with practice and intent, and the help of our tranformative Savior, we can develop the ability to notice, and experience, and savor, and find joy in the abundant, infinite, spectacular world we, for now anyway, must live in.
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