Some people think joy is something we won’t experience until we get to heaven, but I disagree with this belief. The Lord wants us to experience joy not only in the life to come but in this lifetime as well. He sent His son Jesus to free us, to comfort us and to trade our despair and mourning for praise and gladness:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3; New International Version)
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reads verses 1-2 of the above Isaiah Scripture in reference to Himself. He came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release from darkness for prisoners. Jesus did not say that He would make these things happen after His followers entered heaven, but rather He proclaimed that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21; emphasis mine).
Though Jesus promises freedom, Christians can still find themselves imprisoned by a multitude of oppressors – addiction, unhealthy relationships, anxiety, etc. For a long time I found myself in a prison of deep depression. In my quest to identify what was preventing me from allowing the Lord to free me from this mental tyrant, I discovered that my depression could in large part be attributed to doing things I don’t want to do that I think I should do.
In all of my extensive research on Fibromyalgia and depression, the best advice I found for rediscovering my own joy was very simply stated in a little book entitled The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The author, Don Colbert, suggested imagining I only have one year left to live. During that year, what would I choose to do and not do? To make answering this question easier, he recommended grouping my activities into three categories: 1) things I enjoy doing, 2) things I must do, and 3) things that I neither enjoy nor must do. It turned out that so much of my time was devoted to the third category! Colbert advised the reader to “eliminate all of the items from category three”, at least for the near future and preferably for the rest of his/her life.
Of course, we all have responsibilities that we must fulfill. Usually these are healthy activities that fulfill us, keep us accountable and make us contributing members of society. Many of us also sign up for commitments and obligations that are optional and voluntary. It’s these “extra” undertakings that can sap my energy and cause me to become resentful because they take away from the precious little time I have to do the things I enjoy and be with the people in whose company I most delight. Maintaining a balance in my Christian walk is vital.
Taking time to pray before taking on a commitment or doing something solely out of obligation helps me discern which activities the Lord wants me to participate in and which ones I’m motivated to engage in out of pride or a guilty conscience. I rely on the Holy Spirit for direction, and I usually say no when the activity proves to be something I neither want to do nor must do. When I live my life this way, I am at my happiest, I feel good physically (because I’m taking care of myself and not adding stress!), and I have more energy. Conversely, when my calendar is filled with obligations I am irritable, tired and unhappy. But this is not God’s will for me. He doesn’t load me down with a bunch of rules and “should’s”. Instead, Jesus asks me to take on His comparatively light and easy yoke:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus spoke at great length against the hypocrisy and the heavy burden of tradition and laws the Pharisees and teachers of the law of His day put on the people. In Matthew 23, Jesus warned:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:2-5a; emphasis mine)
Many people perceive the Christian life as restricting and prohibitive. On the contrary, there is such freedom in following Jesus and surrendering to Him! Our great Partner, the Lord, is always there to share our burdens and do the heavy lifting. We don’t have to do anything to make Him love us. In fact, we can’t do anything to make Him love us because He already does – without condition. He welcomes us with open arms by His grace, and in return we receive the privilege of serving Him as a demonstration of our gratitude for all He is and all He has done.
Beloved warrior, it’s impossible to face and fight our battles effectively if we’re bogged down with the heavy load of legalism, societal expectations and our guilt over what we think we “should” do when it’s not something the Lord specifically calls us to. May we find true freedom in His easy yoke and rest in His unconditional love.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Enjoy this Stephen Curtis Chapman song about the freedom we have in Christ!
Reference: Colbert, Don, M.D. The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. Lake Mary: Siloam, 2000. Print.