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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

January 22, 2016

Joy is internal, not external

Filed under Sabbath Thoughts

As the associate pastor of a church in Ohio 38 years ago I got to know a young married couple that asked me for advice. They were having financial difficulties because their expenses were at times higher than their income. The husband had a good job with a good salary. What was the problem?

In our counseling the wife explained that when she felt discouraged, she tended to go out and buy something that she could be happy about. She said that her parents had treated her that way as a child. If she came home from school discouraged, they would buy her something to divert her attention from her momentary discouragement. The wife could see that her preconditioned reaction to disappointment had caused financial problems for her family.

True joy comes not from what we own or buy, or from what happens to us, but how we respond – the kind of attitudes we have about those experiences. We need not feel like helpless victims of circumstance.

No matter what predicament we are in, we should ask ourselves: How does God want me to view it and feel about it? Then we can choose – with His help – to have that frame of mind.

A good illustration of this is the apostle Paul's life. If anyone in history could be excused for wallowing in self-pity and thinking "woe is me" because of frequent severe hardships, it would be Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Before God called him, Paul was hard-hearted and angry, persecuting and executing Christians. But after his conversion, he was transformed into a loving and joyous person – partly because he understood the magnificent generosity of God's grace and mercy.

Ironically, of all the books of the Bible, among the most joyful are the "prison epistles" – letters written by Paul while enduring an imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16-31). They are the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. A man whom we would expect to need encouragement was giving encouragement!

Paul referred to his intense suffering as "light affliction" compared with the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" that awaits God's servants at the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:17; see also Romans 8:18). What a great attitude!

In the many trials Paul experienced in his service for God and His church, Paul didn't think about what he could buy to make himself feel better. Instead he wrote, "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content" (Philippians 4:11). Contentment is a large part of joy.

Paul didn't tell us to rejoice only when the going is pleasant and easy. He said, "Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

With these thoughts I wish everyone a rewarding Sabbath!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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