If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Why do we cling to tragic sagas of self-destructive stars like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Billie Holiday, and Kurt Cobain? Certainly there’s nothing inspiring or uplifting in their tales of woe. Most of their lives start with their victimization as children and end with them victimizing themselves. Maybe we’re compelled by such awful examples of waste and sorrow because we identify with their weaknesses. We think, “If it could happen to them, it could happen to me.” Perhaps they remind us to be grateful for our blessings and cherish what we have with care and caution.
As followers of Jesus, we’ve been given complete joy. It’s instilled in us. It permeates our beings. It radiates through us to infect everything and everyone around us. Joy isn’t something believers feel. It’s what we do. It’s complete, self-contained and unaffected by outside influences. When we allow self and situations to interfere with our joy, we throw our gift away. We stop following Christ, our role model, and start emulating pitifully self-destructive stars. Hebrews tells us that at His lowest moment, Jesus persevered through joy:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12.2)
We endure our trials by practicing joy. But how do we receive this joy? We remain—or rest—in Christ. How do we do that? We obey His command to love one another as He loves us.
The Love Connection
Love and joy are inextricably linked. This seems plain enough when we love those who love us. Joy flourishes. But it’s no less true when we love those who don’t love us—who despise us, fear us, exclude us, and try to destroy us. True believers give love and joy the same way—unconditionally, freely, and gladly. Should we decide to withhold love from anyone, we cheat ourselves out of joy.
What we do with the joy we’ve been given makes all the difference in how our story ends. If we go through life as victims and puppets, we wind up like Judy and Marilyn and Kurt, wasting our gifts and canceling our future. On the other hand, if we live with our eyes fixed on Jesus, practicing love and joy in the face of hatred and sorrow, our story ends as His did. We rise.
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Personal Postscript: Joy Playlist
For me, personally, music is one of the most powerful tools available to reinforce my joy and anchor it in my thoughts and spirit. I’ve built an iPod playlist of songs—gospel and secular—that encourage me to practice joy. I share it here for anyone who may be looking for some new or overlooked tunes to feed their joy. Of course, I invite one and all to add their favorites to the list.
- Center of My Joy – The Richard Smallwood Singers
- All Because of You – U2
- You Brought the Sunshine – The Clark Sisters
- So Glad – Amy Grant
- Unspeakable Joy – Douglas Miller
- Special Gift – Donnie McClurkin
- My Joy – Leela James
- Hallelujah Anyhow – Thomas Whitfield
- Joy – Walter Hawkins and The Love Center Choir
- Why We Sing – Kirk Franklin
- Be Happy – Mary J. Blige
- Joyful, Joyful – Kristin Chenoweth
- This Joy – Yolanda Adams
- Joy to the World – Whitney Houston
- Joy Will Come – Calvin Bernard Rhone
- Let the Joy Rise – Abigail
- Jesus Is All – Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ