I love the life of David. I love that a shepherd boy can grow up to be King. I love that a young man of faith can kill a giant with a simple sling, a small stone and unwavering courage. And I love that an imperfect person who makes life-altering mistakes, can still find his way back to a life of joy.
Shortly after committing adultery with Bathsheba and his involvement in her husband’s murder (2 Samuel 11) we find David completely miserable. Utterly joyless. The man after God’s own heart has gotten himself into the mess of a lifetime, and here is where he remains stuck. And here is where I can completely relate. Although my sin looks different than David’s, I too get stuck, in need of a fresh start, asking to be cleansed, longing for joy.
In Psalm 51, we discover how King David made his way back to joy. “Create in me a clean heart… and restore to me the joy of my salvation.” (Ps. 51:10, 12) It is clear throughout this beautiful, heart wrenching prayer that David’s joy vanishes for one reason, sin had chased it away. David learns, as we all have at one time or another, that overwhelming guilt and overflowing joy cannot reside in the same heart.
My sin may go by a different name (impatience, selfishness, pride, envy, gossip, anger, discontentment) but just like David, until I admit my failures and come clean with God, it certainly leads to the same joyless place. Unrepentant sin is certainly a joy stealer; here are a few others to watch out for…
- Forgetting what the Lord has done for us steals our joy. No matter how many times God has gotten me through tough situation, seemingly unsolvable problem or just plain nuisance, no matter how many times I’ve gotten to the rainbow after the storm, I fall into the trap of believing that this time, it’s different. This time, this situation, this problem, this stress, will last forever. This time it’s just too big for God to fix. The children of Israel had the same problem; just like us, they forget so quickly! Let’s keep a list, write ourselves a note, keep a journal… to help bring to mind the reliability of our gracious God. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. (Psalm 77:11 NIV)
- Allowing envy into our thoughts steals our joy. How strange that sometimes we let ourselves believe that the shiny, filtered photos on social media, television screens and magazine covers are representations of reality. It seems that our society’s latest obsession is pretending that perfect kids, perfect families, perfect vacations, perfect teeth, and perfect lives really do exist. When I allow myself to believe that someone’s outside tells the whole story, that a person in my life has zero problems, issues, worries or complaints, jealousy follows close behind, and contentment disappears. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual. (James 3:14-15 NIV)
- Caring too much about what others think steals our joy. Another quick way joy vanishes is to be overly concerned about others’ opinions. Newsflash: Not everyone will like us, approve of us, or want to be our bestie. If we have to make a tough or unpopular decision at home, church, work or neighborhood, we may be disliked for it. If (make that when) we lose our patience, accidentally say something stupid, or voice our opinion, we may be disliked for it. Doing our best, which at times isn’t all that great, is part of being human. Being overly worried about those failures leads to dismal living. To keep joy at a maximum remember to simply say sorry when we mess up and give grace when others do the same. Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? (Galatians 1:10 NIV)
Joy stealers can get us down, but getting our joy on, and keeping it in tact, doesn’t have to take a miracle. It just takes a mind that is set on things above.