The Pursuit of J.O.Y.
by Rebecca MacKenzie
Would you stop looking on the bright side!” my husband Ken snapped at me in response to my reassuring words. He slammed the door behind him and stomped off our property. While my words of encouragement had served only to intensify his misery, his angry retort took me by surprise. I involuntarily burst out laughing, but the slammed door spared him the knowledge of that.
Like fire and gasoline, Ken’s negativity and my optimism can be a volatile mix. Yet, we have been married for more than a quarter of a century. The occasional eruptions and some long periods of unrest we have withstood are offset by the joy we share. God gets the glory in that for gracing each of us with the need for the other’s disposition. While my “Little Miss Sunshine” often grates on Ken, his “Eeyore” is buoyed by it. And, Ken’s pragmatism protects me from my own naiveté.
God doesn’t only grace spouses with needed balance. Our friendships and other personal relationships, and even our day-to-day interactions benefit by God working all things for good (Rom 8:28). Everyone occasionally gets frustrated in trying to make personal relationships work, and even fleeting encounters with rude individuals can challenge our attitude. In order to keep the joy in our relationships and social interactions, it’s important we maintain the proper focus.
Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2), understood perfect focus. If we become tangled in self-pity, bitterness, anger, or fear, it would be wise for us to remember the sufferings of Jesus. With full knowledge of the physical anguish he would endure for our salvation, he willingly became like us. His focus never deviated from the will of his Father. Despite the torture of his flesh (Mt 27:26), even despite seemingly being abandoned by his Father (Mt 27:46), Jesus’ focus was constant, and he endured “for the joy . . . set before him” (Heb 12:2). Jesus must be our primary focus in our pursuit of joy for he is the embodiment of constancy in trials.
Jesus directs our focus toward others. He clearly states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). We know his commands from reading God’s Word and two of them are particularly encompassing: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37), and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). While the first confirms our primary focus, the second summarizes the remaining components of joy.
Moreover, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). He illustrated this with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:1-26) and from the cross (Lk 23:34). By focusing first on Jesus, we are able to imitate his focus on others. Seeing people through the eyes of Jesus changes our perception and can enable us to draw closer to joy.
Accomplishing the proper focus on ourselves is addressed in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” How, then, do we love ourselves (Mt 22:39) if we elevate others above us? Mimicking God’s perfect love makes it possible for us to focus on our self-love subordinately and, thereby, to love others in humility. This is explained in the remainder of the Philippians passage (verses 5-8): “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
When the trials of life chip away at us, we are to be obedient as Jesus was obedient. Don’t give up; we are renewed daily. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). If our mindset is to mirror that of Christ, our humility and obedience must approximate his. Then, it is not only possible to focus on ourselves appropriately, but that focus is also an indispensible component in the pursuit of joy.
J.O.Y. – Jesus. Others. Yourself. Pursue it!
Rebecca MacKenzie lives in Wisconsin.