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When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you try to think of is what day it is. “It’s Tuesday,” you say to yourself. It means you’re not going to church because it isn’t Sunday, and you don’t have the day off because it isn’t Saturday. It will be the regular Tuesday routine plus the errands on your list. All this cogitation takes place in the space of a moment.
The second thing you think of is what it is that’s bothering you about your life—who hates you these days; what talents you lack; how you have messed up your children’s lives. There is a compulsive need to know—right away—what it is you should be worrying about, so that you can pick up where you left off last night in one uninterrupted stream of worry. “Anxieties all present and accounted for? Good, now I can get on with the day.”
Do not envision a conscious and assiduous worry, but more of a back-burner flickering flame of unpeace whose fuel is a finite set of specific regrets and longings.
There is a feeling of safety in this. If you woke up and didn’t remember what your problems were, you would be uneasy till you did remember. Now you are relieved because you can “manage” them. The boogeyman can’t jump out of the dark at you if you know he’s there. So you are happy. Well, not happy. But this is all you know.
What if it didn’t have to be like this? What if you could choose joy when you woke up every day, regardless of the circumstances?
I ransacked my old photo albums looking for a photo for my neighbor’s funeral. When I came across pictures of myself—in a crowd, at a party, at the beach—I thought, “I know what I was thinking when this picture was taken.” I was worrying. I wasn’t trusting God. I wasn’t “in the moment.” Real life was being consumed on the altar of past and future phantoms.
Just because you have never done it before is no proof that you cannot do it starting today.
Somewhere we got the idea that this is the human condition, even for a Christian. And why wouldn’t we? Everyone we know is a worrier. Experience becomes normative. Someone has filled us with the notion that we have no free will to change this, but that our wills are still in bondage as before we got saved.
This is a lie of the devil. The last thing he wants us to know is that we are able to wake up on any Tuesday morning and choose joy—and keep choosing it all day long as often as the buzzards of worry start to gather overhead. It may not be easy at first, due to force of habit. But we’re called to warfare, to fighting the good fight. What else can this mean but to talk to yourself rather than listening to yourself?
Choosing joy is what God commands. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), He says twice, for emphasis. He tells the exile returnees: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. … Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine, … for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
If God commands it, we can do it. Just because you have never done it before is no proof that you cannot do it starting today. Just because you don’t know anyone who seems joyful is no proof that it’s not possible. Be the first on your block. “Let God be true though every man a liar.”
Someone has told you that God must work joy in you and that you cannot exert effort toward it. Tell that person what God said to Cain—that sin desires to have you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:7). Tell that person about David’s firm resolution: “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” (Psalm 101:2).
It may take a while to get the hang of it but you will succeed, because you have more power than you thought. After all, “Do you not know that … God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).