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The Opportunity for Great Joy

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. — James 1:2

“What in the world were you thinking? How many times have we said no running? I am just…” I’m spewing and it’s ugly and the words are so frazzled with frustration they fray midstream. I can feel the slow smothering, the tight choking, and I can feel it in the throat, rising.

My knees are stiff and it’s jarring, how peace can shatter faster than glass, the breakneck speeds at which I can fall — and refuse to bend the knees at all.

I look into the faces of the guilty and a son arcs his eyebrow, shrugs his shoulders, nonchalant.

I hold my head in my hands and ask it honest before God and children and my daily mess:

Can we really expect joy all the time?

I will struggle to heed this until I am no more: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2), and I will listen and again I will listen and I will wrestle to put skin on it: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

I gnaw my lip. The body howls when joy is extinguished. The face shrivels pain, the voice pitches angry cry. “No man can live without joy” is what Thomas Aquinas wrote. And I confess, it is true, I have known many dead waiting to die.

The glass lies everywhere broken.

I may feel disappointment and the despair may flood high, but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions. While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.

I know it well after a day smattered with rowdiness and worn a bit ragged with bickering. Joy doesn’t negate all other emotions — joy transcends all other emotions.

Only self can kill joy.

I’m the one doing this to me. The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy — nothing else. Dare I ask what I think I deserve? A life with no discomfort, no inconveniences? What do I really deserve?

God does not give rights but He imparts responsibilities — response-abilities — inviting us to respond to His love-gifts. And I know and can feel it tight: I’m responding miserably to the gift of this moment. In fact, I’m refusing it. Proudly refusing to accept this moment, dismissing it as no gift at all, I refuse God. I reject God. Why is this eucharisteo always so hard?

I had thought joy’s flame needed protecting.

My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy.

But flames need a bit of wind.

I hadn’t known that joy meant dying. I can trust.

I can let go.

Joy — it’s always obedience.

I know it deeper now: This eucharisteo is no game of Pollyanna but the hard edge of blade.

Only self can kill joy.

I take a long deep breath. I step from the stairs, stairs that have led all the way down into this.

I kneel down into a mess of glass.

Eucharisteo makes the knees the vantage point of a life. I bend, and the body, it says it quiet: “Thy will be done.” This is the way a body and a mouth say thank you: Thy will be done. This is the way the self dies, falls into the arms of Love.

This is why. This is why the fight for joy is always so hard.

“No one who ever said to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy — not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment,” asserts Peter Kreeft. “Every other Christian who has ever lived has found exactly the same thing in his own experience. It is an experiment that has been performed over and over again billions of times, always with the same result.”

I am kneeling in glass and my memories of shattered glass and Jesus comes soft — “Thy will be done” is My own joy story, child, from beginning to end.

And I hear it soft too, what all His life speaks: Joy is in the acquiescing.

A circle of children stand around me, watching, waiting. Long slivers of transparency, blades, lie before me, catching light.

I humbly open my hand.

Without a word, one by one, they come to the outer edges and they kneel too.

And I humbly open my hand to release my will to receive His, to accept His wind. I accept the gift of now as it is — accept God — for I can’t be receptive to God unless I receive what He gives. Joy’s light flickers, breathes, fueled by the will of God — fueled by Him.

A shaft filters through an afternoon window and the cracks of the aged wood revive in sun.

I pray.

I let go. Lay the hand open. The sun slides across old hairline scars.

My palm holds light.

Lord God, You ask me to give thanks in all things today — because You know that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving. Today, cause me to do Your will, not mine — and let me release my desire to protect my joy at all costs. Today, open my hand to joy in surrendered obedience.

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* Eucharisteo is a Greek word that means “to be grateful; to give thanks”

“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19). In the original language, “He gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.” One of Christ’s very last directives He offers to His disciples is to take the bread, the wine, and to remember. Do this in remembrance of Me. Remember and give thanks. This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give thanks, eucharisteo.

Excerpted with permission from One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp, copyright Ann Morton Voskamp.

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Your Turn

Joy begins with thanksgiving. What are five things you are thankful for today? Please share with us on our blog! We would love to hear what God is doing in your life! ~ Devotionals Daily