“Where is that joyful spirit we felt together then? In those days, I knew you would gladly have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible.”
(Galatians 4:15 NLT)
Have you ever felt like you lost your joy? I’m talking about a time where you just couldn’t shake off a heaviness you felt surrounding you. Maybe you wouldn’t label it “depression” but you definitely notice a decrease in how often you smile or laugh or maybe it’s just that you have a shorter fuse than normal.
I do. I lose my joy way more often than I care to admit. And there are times when a couple small shifts in my eating or activity levels can help me find my joy again. But there are other times where nothing I do (or don’t do) seems to help.
So, what’s up with that? Why do we lose our joy? And how can we get it back?
I was wondering the same thing just recently when all of a sudden God gave me some insight into the solution. It was in chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this section, Paul is explaining to them how to understand the balance of law, grace and God. He gets into this because the Christians in Galatia are struggling with trying to earn God’s love rather than believing that God’s love is already theirs through faith. He points out the change that this misunderstanding is causing in their community:
“Where is that joyful spirit we felt together then? In those days, I knew you would gladly have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible.”(Galatians 4:15 NLT)
The Galatians had lost their joy! It sounds like even their level of generosity had been affected by the loss. (That totally makes sense – I know when I’m feeling joyless, I feel much less aware of others’ needs and much less able to help with those needs.) Here’s what my commentary had to say about this:
“Paul sensed that the Galatians had lost the joy of their salvation because of legalism. Legalism can take away joy because (1) it makes people feel guilty rather than loved; (2) it produces self-hatred rather than humility; (3) it stresses performance over relationship; (4) it points out how far short we fall rather than how far we’ve come because of what Christ did for us. If you are feeling guilty and inadequate, check your focus. Are you living by faith in Christ or by trying to live up to the demands and expectations of others?”Life Application Study Bible
I don’t know about you but that hit home for me. Every time I’ve lost my joy, it’s been during a time when I was more focused on legalism and living up to the demands, expectations, opinions, etc. of others rather than being focused on my relationship with God. When I focus on God and what he thinks of me – that, because of Jesus, all he sees when he looks at me is the most perfect version of me – that joy slowly bubbles back into my heart, mind and soul.
So, what practical solutions are there for staying focused on God? I think that’s another one of those “simple but not easy” solutions. For me, it’s an ongoing battle. I do better when I’m careful about the influences I allow into my head/heart. Some weeks I have to limit social media and Netflix/Hulu/Prime. I definitely notice a [positive] difference when I read my Bible at least 3 times a week. I also notice my joy sticks around longer if I spend time with other people who are joyfully focused on Jesus. Sometimes I just need more quiet conversation with God.
What about you? What kind of things help you stop focusing on legalism and instead find your joy in your relationship with God? Share your ideas in the Comments below!
Prayer: Dear Lord, I need your help. I get so focused on the pressures of the world around me that I lose my joy. I want to focus on my faith in you instead, God. You made it so simple for me – faith is a gift that you gave to me freely. Your love doesn’t have strings attached. Help me focus on that. Amen.